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Tigers vs. Pirates Preview: Split decision leaves Detroit hungry for series win

Michael Fulmer hopes to be more ROY than R... oh why?

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If you would have told me three weeks ago the Tigers would be number two in the AL Central, there’s a solid chance I would have slapped you for telling me such a bald-faced lie. Certainly not the 2018 Tigers! Well, here we are, almost a month into the season, and in spite of some weather-limited play, the Tigers find themselves a mere three games behind the Central-leading Cleveland Indians.

A doubleheader yesterday saw a game each go to the Tigers and the Pirates, and while the first game was a bonafide slugfest that tilted in favor of the Tigers, the Pirates got their revenge in the evening match-up with a pretty brutal win. The Tigers’ hopes of coming out on top after the nasty Opening Series outcome (especially the game one win that never should have been) are all balanced on what happens today.

As for the Pirates, they’re currently third in the NL Central, within arm’s reach of overtaking the Cardinals and climbing to the top with the Brewers. They can see the number one position and don’t want a rebuilding team like the Tigers keeping them down. It will all come down to Fulmer vs Nova, and whether or not the Tigers offense has been drained after a long, rainy day in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Detroit Tigers (10-12) at Pittsburgh Pirates (13-11)

Time/Place: 12:35 p.m., PNC Park
SB Nation site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-2, 3.47 ERA) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (2-1, 4.20 ERA)

Game 23 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 23.1 13 6 4.77 0.1
Nova 30 20.2 3.2 3.85 0.4

Ivan Nova offers an interesting challenge for the Tigers. Like many MLB pitchers, he’s seeing a decent number of strikeouts this season, but as we recently profiled, the Tigers are one of the few major league teams who don’t appear to be striking out as much as others. Unfortunately, that works for the pitching staff as well, and Michael Fulmer’s dismal 13 percent strikeout rate isn’t terribly promising.

Miguel Cabrera is no stranger to Nova, and has hit well against him, with a .353 average against the Pirates righty, with a double, a home run, and four RBIs against him in previous matchups. If Cabrera can maintain that historical precedence, he might just claim the upper hand today.

Key matchup: Exhaustion vs Effort

The Tigers have had their fair share of doubleheaders in the last week, and even bonus off-days due to weather can only help so much. The real deciding factor for the Tigers will be if they can keep their bats hot and not let the drag of their schedule lead to sloppy fielding and imprecise plate discipline.

Michael Fulmer looking up

This is Fulmer’s second time facing the Pirates this season, and the first go-round he took the loss, but it was by no means a bad outing. He went eight innings and gave up only a single run. If he can be more the pitcher we saw last Friday against the Royals, who was able to strikeout four batters over seven innings and give up only two runs, that Fulmer will do well here.

If, on the other hand, we see the Fulmer who took the mound in Cleveland on April 12... well, we’re better off not thinking about that too much. Needless to say we want to see more of the good Fulmer if the Tigers want to maintain their tenuous hold near the top of the AL Central heap.


Fulmer keeps Pirates to limited hits, but Tigers offense is lackluster. Tigers win in close game.

Gameday reading