Several times this season, we have said something along the lines of “enjoy this early run by the Tigers, because it won’t last.” Fans have acted in a similar way, celebrating each win with a zeal this fanbase hasn’t seen in over a decade.
But for all the talk of “they won’t stay in contention,” we now find the Tigers just 4 1⁄2 games out of first place on June 15. The Cleveland Indians still have yet to run away with the division, and the Minnesota Twins are not the contenders many thought they were at the start of the year. These Tigers, meanwhile, are 33-37 after 70 games, one win better than they were in 2017.
Better yet, their schedule sets up nicely. The Tigers kick off an eight-game road trip on Friday, but five of those games are against the lowly White Sox and Reds. After finishing off the trip with a three-game set in Cleveland, they return home for four games against the similarly mediocre Oakland Athletics.
Now, back to the “this won’t last” part of the show. The Tigers’ schedule gets much tougher after that, especially after the All-Star break. They may look to start selling off pieces too, depending on what the market demands for players like Francisco Liriano, Leonys Martin, or even Friday’s starter, Mike Fiers.
Detroit Tigers (33-37) at Chicago White Sox (24-43)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Guaranteed Rate Field
SB Nation site: South Side Sox
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (5-3, 4.01 ERA) vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez (2-4, 3.26 ERA)
Game 71 Pitching Matchup
Somehow, some way, the Mike Fiers experiment is working. The 33-year-old righthander has been pounding the zone all season long, and now has a shiny 5-3 record to go along with his 4.01 ERA. He has limited opponents to two runs or fewer in seven of his 12 outings this season, and the Tigers have won eight of those 12 starts. He’s only third on the team in innings pitched, but leads the starting rotation with a 3.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has pitched fairly well against the Sox already this season, too; he blanked them for six innings back on April 8, and coughed up four runs in 5 2⁄3 innings in May.
I said earlier this year that regression was coming for Reynaldo Lopez, and it has, to a certain extent. He limited the Tigers to two runs on five hits in seven innings in their last matchup, but immediately regressed by giving up seven runs to the Cleveland Indians in his next outing. Since then, Lopez has been his usual effectively wild self; he has limited opponents to just two runs (one earned) on seven hits in his last 13 1⁄3 innings, but has seven walks during that span.
Key matchup: The Tigers offense vs. scoring runs on the road
There aren’t many offenses that have been more inert away from home than Detroit’s this season. The Tigers have a paltry 83 wRC+ as a team on the road, worse than all but two other American League teams. There aren’t many areas to single out as particularly woeful — they’re bad in pretty much every area — but the 6.7 percent walk rate and .135 isolated power (ISO) aren’t great, Bob. Younger players like JaCoby Jones (36 wRC+) and Dixon Machado (41 wRC+) have been the worst culprits, but team veterans like Jose Iglesias (66 wRC+) and James McCann (69 wRC+) haven’t been much better. If they can find a way to up their output a bit over the next week, it could give the Tigers a chance to pull even closer in the division race.
Fiers and the Tigers win a wild game that goes way longer than you want.