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Tigers vs. Orioles Preview: Soft tossers in Camden Yards may produce fireworks tonight

The Orioles are one of the early bottom feeders, but the Tigers need to abuse Chris Tillman to avoid a bullpen battle tonight.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

We’re only 23 games into the regular season, but so far the Detroit Tigers haven’t been the debacle many expected. The pitching staff has faltered of late, but remains roughly in the middle of the pack compared to the rest of the major leagues. Meanwhile, the offense has actually been very average. Young talents like Jeimer Candelario and JaCoby Jones have been on fire, while veterans Leonys Martin, and Miguel Cabrera are off to their best starts in years. The other shoe may drop before too long, but the Tigers, as we mentioned on the BYB podcast this week, may prove that it’s not easy to tank in such a “have’s and have not’s” environment.

On the other hand, things couldn’t be going much worse for the Baltimore Orioles. Despite cries from virtually ever corner of the baseball world for them to sell and begin rebuilding, the Orioles picked up average arms like Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner, and dreamed madly of one last run. This despite existing in the shadow of two of the games major powers in Boston and New York. A disastrous start already has the entire proposition looking ridiculous, and their unwillingness to deal this offseason means they’re likely to get less than they could’ve for players like Manny Machado or Adam Jones. That reticence leads one to wonder if they’ll come to their senses and deal even good young starters like Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. The bullpen still boast a couple of dangerous arms, but overall the Orioles’ present and future looks quite bleak. However, you can never count them out at home.

Detroit Tigers (10-13) at Baltimore Orioles (6-19)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Camden Yards
SB Nation site: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (2-1, 3.71 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (0-4, 9.87 ERA)

Game 24 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fiers 17 13.2 4 4.24 0.2
Tillman 17.1 8.9 12.2 8.08 -0.4

Chris Tillman is a familiar character to Tigers fans. The 30-year-old has spent his entire career with the Orioles, and from 2012-2016 was the backbone of their rotation despite never being any more than a league average pitcher. Fans will remember game one of the 2014 ALDS against the Orioles in which Tillman managed to keep a powerful Tigers’ offense in check enough for the Orioles’ bats to eventually knock Max Scherzer from the game and feast on the Tigers’ bullpen. Bad memories.

The Tigers were actually linked to Tillman repeatedly over the offseason before they signed Fiers and Francisco Liriano. Considering how he’s looked so far, the Tigers made the right call there. Needing depth for what I will term their ludicrous attempt to contend in 2018, the Orioles inked Tillman to a one year deal at three million dollars. He may have trouble being worth even that modest sum if things don’t turn around relatively quickly.

Over the past two seasons, his velocity has decline to the point that he’s now sitting at about 89 mph. His slider has been totally ineffective in the early going this season, leading to a disastrously low strikeout rate. He’s also given up an alarming amount of home runs. The Tigers will need to exploit the long ball in friendly Camden Yards to give Fiers enough run support.

Tigers lefties such as Leonys Martin and Victor Martinez have had great success against Tillman in the past, and Jeimer Candelario seems another likely to get good reads on his mediocre stuff. Still, the Tigers writ large should have little trouble making hard contact. Tillman is getting only 23.3 swings outside the strike zone, and when he comes over the plate he gets mauled. His zone contact rate in 2018 stands at a terrifying—for Orioles’ fans—97.9 percent.

Key Matchup: Fiers vs. the Orioles left-handed bats

Surprisingly, Mike Fiers hasn’t had much trouble with the likes of Manny Machado or Adam Jones in his previous matchups with the Orioles. It’s been the left-handers, like Pedro Alvarez and Chris Davis who have hammered Fiers in the past. Of course, Fiers is decidedly in soft tosser territory now as well. Yet despite stuff that doesn’t really pass the eye test, Fiers deception and command has been good enough to stay out of major trouble. In fact, Fiers is running a high whiff rate by his previous standards, and is getting more swings at pitches out of the zone in the early going. Pitching coach Chris Bosio’s emphasis on proper sequencing and deception may be at work here. Fiers minuscule walk rate also means Orioles’ hitters will have to work for everything they get tonight.

So far, those hitters have been incapable of doing much work. The Orioles’ offense in languishing at 27th in baseball, and running a miserable team wRC+ of just 78 so far. Chris Davis, who should be the biggest threat for Fiers, is batting just .174 with two home runs. If there is a team Tigers’ starting pitchers are happy to face, it’s likely the Orioles as much as say, the Royals.

Miggy will go yard tonight

Miguel Cabrera hasn’t had a whole lot of success against Tillman particularly, but he has balled out in Camden Yards on numerous occasions. So far, the big man boasts a triple slash line of .325/.409/.500, which is his best mark at this point in a season in many years. Obviously he hasn’t been launching enough fly balls to truly cash in on all the hard contact he’s making, but he’s clearly much healthier and turning around even the highest velocity fastballs with authority once again. On a warm, humid evening in Baltimore, in a hitter friendly yard, and facing a struggling starter like Tillman, look for Cabrera to have a good night, and possibly launch home run number three while he’s at it.


Fiers gets knocked around again, but the Tigers’ hitters feast on Chris Tillman to build an early lead and hang on late.