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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: Michael Fulmer looking to build on strong start in series finale

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Fulmer has struggled recently, but is coming off a solid outing against the Cleveland Indians over the weekend.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

No matter how you slice it, we haven’t seen the best of Michael Fulmer this season. The 25-year-old righthander starter the season out like his usual self, generating weak contact and eating innings en route to a 2.80 ERA in his first six starts. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse in May. Fulmer started striking out more hitters, but also started walking more batters than at any point in his young MLB career. He gave up 24 runs in 31 13 innings over his next six starts, a 6.89 ERA.

During that span, he walked 13.3 percent of the batters he faced, over double his 5.9 percent walk rate from a year ago. Fortunately, Fulmer might be back on track. He was lights out against the Cleveland Indians six days ago, limiting them to just one run on five hits in seven innings. He struck out seven and did not walk a batter.

More importantly, he did not fold the third time through the order. Of the seven Indians hitters Fulmer faced for a third time on June 8, only one reached base. This is a stark contrast from most of the season, in which opponents have hit .349/.431/.540 against Fulmer the third time through the order. For his career, Fulmer has limited hitters to a .244/.314/.390 line the third time through, and that includes this year’s hideous numbers.

We’ll do a deeper dive into exactly what has plagued Fulmer the third time through the order this year later on. Until then, let’s hope he continues to sort things out and delivers a series win over Minnesota on Thursday.

Minnesota Twins (29-35) at Detroit Tigers (32-37)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Lance Lynn (4-4, 5.08 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (2-5, 4.40 ERA)

Game 70 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Lynn 62.0 22.0 14.2 4.39 0.6
Fulmer 73.2 20.1 8.8 4.27 0.9

A few weeks ago, I told all who would listen (or read) that Lance Lynn’s rough start with the Twins was not much to be worried about. He was staring to turn things around, and had a good matchup ahead against a Tigers team that does not hit right-handed pitching well.

Well, I nailed that one. Lynn threw 6 23 scoreless innings in that game, a 6-0 Minnesota win, and has gone on to limit opponents to just four runs in his last three starts. His command is still an issue — he has walked 10 batters in his last 18 innings — but this recent stretch looks like the Lynn of old. It’s more than just a three-start sample, too. Since May 1, Lynn has a 3.05 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 38 13 innings. He has made seven starts, and lasted six innings or more in five of them. He has only allowed one home run, and limited opponents to a .675 OPS despite a .330 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)

Unfortunately, there’s little reason to think Lynn won’t continue this hot stretch for a bit longer. He has struggled with the command some, but still throws a ton of fastballs that have given right-handed hitters trouble over the last several years. The Tigers weren’t very patient in their last matchup with Lynn, drawing one walk. If Lynn is around the strike zone in this game, Detroit could struggle to score runs.

Key matchup: Michael Fulmer vs. run support

For years, it felt like the Tigers gave former ace Justin Verlander the shaft in terms of run support. While that was only true some of the time — Verlander did finish with the AL’s third-lowest run support per start in 2015 — it certainly seemed like the Tigers came up on the short end of a low-scoring matchup all too often.

Unfortunately, that torch seems to have been passed. Now that Michael Fulmer is Detroit’s ace, he is the one wearing too many losses that should be blamed on his offense. To wit: Fulmer is receiving just 3.1 runs per game he starts, tied for the fourth-lowest rate in the American League. While there have been some stinkers on his end lately, Fulmer has twice lost 1-0 this year (both times to the Pittsburgh Pirates). He also saw his sparkling outing against the Cleveland Indians five days ago wasted, as the Tigers only scored one run and ultimately lost 4-1.

Prediction

Fulmer and the Tigers win a low-scoring game to take the series.

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