Heading into the 2018 season, expectations were as low as can be for the Detroit Tigers. Many expected them to lose upwards of 100 games, with even the most optimistic fans still preparing for 90 losses or more. They didn’t exactly shoot out of the gate — they’re still on that 90-loss pace — but have otherwise surprised so far. Between a few early breakout performances and some late-inning comebacks, these Tigers have been entertaining. And thanks to slow starts from the Indians and Twins, they’re even in second place, just 2 1⁄2 games out of the division lead.
Unfortunately, that probably won’t last much longer. As our friend Kurt pointed out at The Athletic — go subscribe! — the Tigers have (sorta) feasted upon weak opponents so far this season.
The Tigers have played against teams with a sub-.500 winning percentage in 21 of their 32 games this year, amassing a 13-8 record. Not only that, but they’ve played some pretty awful teams in the process...And what has happened to the Tigers in those 11 games against winning teams? They’ve won just once , being outscored 32-18. Against the Pirates they’re 1-5. Against the Indians, 0-4. And against the Yankees, 0-1.
The Texas Rangers are another team below .500, and could help further pad the Tigers’ early season stats. They aren’t your typical bottom feeder, however, with more talent than their .361 win percentage would suggest. They have been battered by injuries so far (more on that below) and still have enough power bats to give Tigers pitching fits in this series, especially if Detroit’s offense bogs down yet again.
Detroit Tigers (14-19) at Texas Rangers (13-23)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Globe Life Park
SB Nation site: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-2, 2.80 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Moore (1-4, 7.67 ERA)
Game 34 Pitching Matchup
Man, what happened to Matt Moore? The 28-year-old lefthander was the next big thing a few years ago. He went 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 2013, made his first of what looked like many All-Star appearances to come, and finished in top 10 of a loaded AL Cy Young ballot. He missed most of the next season after having Tommy John surgery, but there was little reason to believe he would fall far off the pace he had set in the previous season. If anything, a pedestrian strikeout-to-walk ratio and league-leading 17 wild pitches were bigger warning signs than a now-routine surgery and rehab.
We can’t say for sure that the surgery is what screwed Moore up. His fastball velocity is about the same as it was pre-surgery, and his walk rate has actually improved. His strikeout rate has dropped off, though, which means more balls in play. Moore’s numbers on that front haven’t been horrible -- his average exit velocity since 2015 is 88.4 miles per hour, which is okay — but he has been victimized by the recent upswing in home run rates throughout the game. He has given up 1.26 dingers per nine innings since returning from Tommy John, a big reason why he has a 5.03 ERA in the same stretch. He gave up more runs than any other pitcher in the National League last year, and was one of just a few pitchers to cough up 200 hits.
Key matchup: The Rangers vs. a better Rangers team currently on the disabled list
No MLB team has been hit harder by the injury bug this year than these Rangers. According to Baseball Reference, the Rangers currently have nine players on the disabled list, including three-quarters of their starting infield. Third baseman Adrian Beltre should be back soon, even as soon as Monday night. Second baseman Rougned Odor won’t be far behind — he might also come back this week — but Elvis Andrus is on the 60-day disabled list and won’t be back until June. Starter Martin Perez is also on the shelf with an elbow injury, and there’s no timetable for his return.
While many of the rest of the Rangers’ current maladies are of little consequence, they can’t afford to lose any more depth (or ground in the AL West standings). Mini-slumps from the Angels and Astros recently have kept Texas within a reasonable distance — they’re already nine games out of first place — but if they don’t get healthy soon, that gap could soon get too large to make up.
Fulmer has another strong outing and the Tigers take game one.