Well, here we go. The Tigers will kick off their first West Coast trip of the year on Thursday, a short four-day jaunt to Seattle before returning back to the Midwest for their first season matchup against the division rival Twins. The Left Coast has been a problem area for the Tigers over the years, even dating back to the 1984 season when the eventual champions were swept in Seattle after a 35-5 start.
Those Tigers ended up just fine, but recent iterations of the team haven’t rebounded so well. The 2017 Tigers split a series in Los Angeles, but went 5-11 in games played in the Pacific Time Zone. The 2016 Tigers went 4-8 out west. Even the 2013 juggernaut was below .500 (4-5) on the road against West Coast teams.
Safeco Field hasn’t been the most intimidating environment for opposing teams in recent years — even the Tigers have fared better there than in Los Angeles, for instance — but the Mariners have swept Detroit in their past two trips to Seattle. You have to go all the way back to July 8, 2015, to find the last Tigers victory at Safeco, a 5-4 decision won by Anibal Sanchez.
Luckily, that streak should end this year. It’s difficult for any MLB team to sweep a four-game series, and the M’s will run out three left-handed starters over the weekend. Detroit has fairly pronounced platoon splits as a team, but should be able to eke out at least one win in this series against one of Seattle’s southpaws.
Detroit Tigers (19-23) at Seattle Mariners (24-18)
Time/Place: 10:10 p.m., Safeco Field
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (2-3, 3.21 ERA) vs. LHP Marco Gonzales (3-3, 5.31 ERA)
Game 43 Pitching Matchup
Just about everything we said in our last preview of Marco Gonzales came true. The M’s lefty didn’t throw a ton of cutters, as he had been, but mixed his four pitches very well. He pounded the strike zone, only walking two of the 27 batters he faced. Unfortunately for him, the Tigers pounded many of those strikes. They racked up 10 hit and scored four runs off Gonzales in six innings, and ultimately won a close 4-3 decision.
Part of Gonzales’ problem was that he didn’t miss many bats, something we touched on last week.
Normally, this would be reason to completely ignore Gonzales’ 5.19 ERA. His advanced metrics are far better than his actual results so far, and predict great things to come for the 26-year-old southpaw. However, those figures also assume that his peripherals will stay consistent. For all the strikeouts Gonzales has racked up so far, he only has an 8.9 percent swinging strike rate. None of his pitches have a whiff rate higher than 14 percent, and opponents are making hard contact 42.3 percent of the time (per Baseball Savant). We can’t even blame one bad outing for Gonzales’ struggles — he has given up at least three runs in five of his seven starts.
In his start on May 12, Gonzales generated just seven swinging strikes on 99 pitches, a 7.1 percent rate. He only struck out three hitters, an unsustainable rate against a Detroit side with a 113 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this year.
Key matchup: Mariners offense vs. Safeco Field
Many an offense has struggled to score runs at the cavernous Safeco Field over the years, but the M’s have had a bit more trouble than usual this year. They are hitting .246/.305/.403 as a team at home, which translates to a 99 wRC+ when adjusted for ballpark factors. This isn’t bad — the Tigers have a 100 wRC+ as a team at home — but Seattle’s production pales in comparison to what they have done on the road. Away from Safeco Field, the M’s have a robust 115 wRC+, the third-best road mark in baseball. With Robinson Cano now out for the next three months, Seattle will need to find a way to plate more runs at home in order to stay in the playoff hunt.
Something weird happens, the Tigers lose, and you go to work really, really tired tomorrow.