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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: It’s time to play spoiler

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Screw the Twins. Let’s knock them out of the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

For the last few weeks, many people on this site — myself included, to a certain extent — have been championing the Tigers’ drive towards a higher pick in next year’s MLB draft. There are plenty of benefits to this pseudo-tanking. A higher pick generally results in a better prospect, though one or two spots might not make a big difference. The Tigers would also receive more bonus pool money for a higher pick, which can pay dividends later in the draft. The more games the Tigers lose right now, the better off they will be later.

But for the next four days? Screw that. The Minnesota Twins are in town, and it’s time to knock them out of the playoffs.

No matter when you started rooting for our beloved Tigers, odds are you have a bad memory or two of a matchup with the Twins. Older fans will remember 1987, when the AL East champion Tigers were unceremoniously dumped from the ALCS by a Twins team that only won 85 games during the regular season. You may be bitter over 2006, when the upstart Tigers lost the AL Central race to Minnesota on the final weekend of the season. Things worked out then, of course, but they didn’t in 2009, when the Twins capped off a white-hot September by knocking out the Tigers in a tiebreaker game that shall not be named.

Things have gone decidedly in Detroit’s favor since then, but there are still moments of frustration to be found. The 2014 Tigers went 9-10 against a lowly Twins team, making their AL Central race with the Kansas City Royals much tighter than it should have been. Brian Dozier’s walkoff home run in early July 2015 was a kill-shot of sorts on that season; the Tigers fell into a 4-11 tailspin afterward and never recovered.

So, screw the Twins. Draft pick be damned, let’s end their season.

Minnesota Twins (78-74) at Detroit Tigers (62-90)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Adalberto Mejia (4-6, 4.62 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-12, 6.18 ERA)

Game 153 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mejia 89.2 19.0 9.9 4.80 0.8
Zimmermann 150.0 14.2 6.2 5.37 0.7

Mejia has been a mainstay in the Twins’ rotation for most of the season, but an arm injury has kept him on the shelf for a large portion of the second half. He missed almost all of August and didn’t look very sharp upon returning, allowing three runs on five hits in just three innings against the Toronto Blue Jays five days ago.

For the year, Mejia has been a very average fifth starter. His ERA took a hit early — especially after the Tigers tagged him for three runs in a short start back in late April — but rounded into form when he limited opponents to 11 earned runs in 28 13 July innings. He hasn’t been particularly efficient, with only four of his 19 starts this year lasting six innings or more. Nearly half of them haven’t even lasted five innings. Given his limited pitch count (57) in his last start, I wouldn’t expect him to go much longer than that in this game.

Key matchup: Jordan Zimmermann vs. his ground ball rate

No one would have confused Zimmermann with a true sinkerballer during his peak with the Washington Nationals, but one thing is clear when parsing over his career statistics: when Zimmermann was at his best, he was posting ground ball rates in the mid-40s. Conversely, his fly ball rates were in the low 30s, and teams didn’t produce many home runs against him.

This year, those percentages have flipped. Zimmermann is only inducing ground balls at a 33.1 percent clip, and his fly ball rate is a career-high 42.3 percent. His actual home run rate (HR/FB%) hasn’t gone up much, but with a higher volume of fly balls to choose from, he is allowing twice as many homers per nine innings as he did during his best years in Washington.

There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the drastic shift. Zimmermann’s batted ball profile in a handful of 2016 innings wasn’t far off from his career norms, but this year’s is all out of whack. His average fastball location hasn’t changed much, other than a slight uptick in high fastballs during his last couple years in D.C. He is throwing fewer fastballs overall, but one imagines that is just due to how bad it has been since arriving in Detroit.

I’m not sure how Zimmermann starts inducing more weak contact and fewer fly balls, but it seems like one of the main problems right now.

Pick to click: James McCann

The Tigers fanbase has mixed feelings about McCann, a homegrown product with obvious strengths and very obvious shortcomings. He has taken strides to shore up those weaknesses in 2017; he is hitting better against right-handed pitching — he has a 110 wRC+ against righties since July 1 — and has already produced a career-high 1.7 fWAR in just 98 games played.

He has always been a lefty masher, though, and 2017 has been no different. McCann is hitting .316/.387/.600 against southpaws. He should continue to fare well against Mejia too; McCann has reached base in three of his four plate appearances against the Twins’ lefthander.

Prediction

The Tigers give up double digit runs in their 91st loss of the year.