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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Offense still isn’t Detroit’s problem

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Even after injuries and trades, the Tigers are still scoring runs.

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies
I mustache you a question...
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Given everything their offense has gone through this year, the Detroit Tigers have no business scoring runs. They traded J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, players who combined for 44 home runs and 5.6 fWAR in 182 games for Detroit this season. They lost Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez to injuries for long stretches of the season. Cabrera and Victor Martinez have also had their offensive production sapped by those injuries; both are below replacement level players for the season, and neither has even been a league average hitter.

Somehow, their offense has kept on truckin’. The 2017 Tigers are tied for 11th in the major leagues with a 100 wRC+, exactly league average. Since trading Upton, they have fallen off... to a 99 wRC+, also 11th in the majors.

A big reason for this is the recent play of Nicholas Castellanos and Jeimer Candelario. Detroit’s third basemen of past and present have produced a wRC+ of 196 and 164, respectively, since the start of the month. Castellanos has been their biggest power threat, with five home runs, and Candelario leads the way with 14 RBI. Others like Alex Presley (148 wRC+), Mikie Mahtook (113 wRC+), and James McCann (110 wRC+) have chipped in as well.

It’s possible that none of the above players maintain their offensive production heading into next year. Castellanos surely won’t, as a 196 wRC+ is “Bryce Harper MVP season” level production. Ditto Candelario, who is hitting like near-peak Miguel Cabrera over the past few weeks. But those drop-offs may be offset by a resurgence from Cabrera himself, as well as upticks in production from Ian Kinsler (if he’s still here), or other players in 2018.

Oakland Athletics (68-83) at Detroit Tigers (62-89)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Daniel Mengden (1-1, 4.30 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-4, 7.03 ERA)

Game 152 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mengden 23.0 15.2 5.4 5.42 0.0
Sanchez 88.1 20.6 5.6 6.00 -0.3

Daniel Mengden has enjoyed a relatively quick rise to the major leagues. A fourth round pick out of Texas A&M by the Houston Astros in 2014, Mengden made quick work of the lower minors. He was promoted aggressively to High-A Lancaster in 2015, and made his way to Oakland in the Scott Kazmir trade that summer. Mengden made his major league debut in 2016 after dominating competition at both Double and Triple-A, but gave up 52 earned runs in 72 innings (ouch).

Unfortunately, Mengden missed most of 2017 with a foot injury that required surgery back in February. He put up solid numbers at Triple-A Nashville in a handful of starts this summer, but has struggled to regain his strikeout touch in a small sample of innings at the major league level — though he did toss a two-hit shutout with seven strikeouts against the Philadelphia Philles in his last start.

Fortunately, the injury doesn’t seem to have affected Mengden’s stuff. He still sports a solid 93 mile-per-hour fastball and a trio of secondary pitches that he mixes in regularly. The slider comes out more against righties while the changeup is mostly used against lefties, but he will throw all four pitches against any hitter.

Key matchup: Anibal Sanchez vs. one final ovation

Assuming the Tigers do the right thing and buy out Sanchez’s contract at the end of the season, this will be his final home start at Comerica Park. The past few years have been tough, but I still think Sanchez’s contract was a good move by the Tigers thanks to those phenomenal first couple years he spent in Detroit’s vaunted rotations of 2013 and ‘14. He gave fans a glimpse of those days in his last start, striking out 11 White Sox hitters in a 3-2 win last weekend. Can he do it one more time?

Pick to click: Alex Presley

I glossed over this statistic above, but Presley has a 148 wRC+ in the month of September. Most of this production came from Tuesday’s offensive outburst, but Presley still had a 117 wRC+ in a handful of September plate appearances prior to his near-cycle last night. It’s almost entirely BABIP-fueled — he has a walk rate south of two percent — but sometimes everything just falls in when you put the ball in play.

Prediction

Sanchez has one more strong outing on the Comerica Park mound.