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Tigers vs. Reds Preview: Tigers aiming for return to .500 in Cincinnati

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The Tigers could return to .500 for the first time since early April with a win.

Minnesota Twins v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It’s not often the 2018 Tigers have a sizable starting pitching advantage over a full series. Even during last weekend’s sweep of the White Sox, the Tigers had to rely on veteran Mike Fiers — who is likely due to regress at some point — and reliever-turned-starter Blaine Hardy against a pair of promising pitching prospects and savvy veteran James Shields. While Shields, Lucas Giolito, and Reynaldo Lopez aren’t exactly a murderous 1-2-3, those matchups were fairly even.

This week, the Tigers finally have a big advantage. They will send their two best starters, Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer, up against a pair of back-end starters from the Cincinnati Reds’ struggling rotation. Tuesday starter Sal Romano throws hard, but hasn’t developed a put-away pitch, and his command has regressed some from his time in the minors. Righthander Tyler Mahle, who will start on Wednesday, has a deceptive delivery and is striking out more hitters this year, but is having trouble keeping the ball in the park, and lefties are teeing off against him.

While Romano and Mahle have a future in the big leagues, neither pitcher measures up well to what Boyd and Fulmer have done this season. Boyd continued to roll in his last start, limiting the Minnesota Twins to two runs on three hits, though it took him 106 pitches to get through five innings.

Can Boyd straighten things out and bring the Tigers back to .500?

Detroit Tigers (36-37) at Cincinnati Reds (26-45)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Great American Ball Park
SB Nation site: Red Reporter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (4-4, 3.23 ERA) vs. RHP Sal Romano (3-7, 5.67 ERA)

Game 74 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 75.1 19.3 9.2 3.88 1.3
Romano 73.0 15.4 9.5 5.35 0.0

As mentioned previously, Romano throws pretty hard. His four-seam fastball averaged 95.9 miles per hour last season, and topped out at 98.7 mph. He isn’t throwing quite as hard this year, but is still averaging 94.6 mph with the heater. He relies heavily on that four-seamer, throwing it nearly two-thirds of the time, and at a roughly 75 percent clip when behind in the count. When he gets ahead, Romano mainly goes to his slider. It’s a mid-80s offering averaging 86.6 mph this year, one that generates a ton of ground balls. He throws it 26 percent of the time overall, but nearly 50 percent of the time when he gets ahead. He is mixing in a two-seamer and changeup more often this year, with the change coming almost exclusively against lefties.

Though the changeup is coming along, Romano still struggles against lefties. They are batting .305/.377/.496 against him this season, with 16 walks to just 22 strikeouts in 159 plate appearances. Righties don’t strike out much either, though. Romano’s strikeout rate is down to a paltry 15.4 percent this season after already sitting below average in 2017. He doesn’t generate many swings and misses with his fastball or slider, instead relying on ground balls to get outs.

Unfortunately for Romano, he isn’t getting as many ground balls as he did last year. Opponents are elevating the ball more often this year, resulting in a higher hard hit rate than in 2017. They have also hit more home runs against him in fewer MLB innings than he logged last year.

Key matchup: Boyd vs. a tougher lineup than you would expect

If you think the Reds’ lineup is Joey Votto and eight other guys, you’re wrong. Cincinnati sits in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories, and has the fourth-best on-base percentage in baseball at .328. They are better against lefties too, with a 102 wRC+ that sits in the top 10. Second baseman Scooter Gennett and former Tigers infielder Eugenio Suarez both have better offensive numbers than Votto, and are teeing off against left-handed pitching. Catcher Tucker Barnhart also mashes against lefties, with a 184 wRC+ in 45 plate appearances. Outfielders Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall are also very good against left-handed pitching, while Votto’s 79 wRC+ puts him well below average.

Add in Great American Ball Park’s cozy dimensions, and this could be a tough matchup for Boyd’s fly ball heavy profile.

Prediction

Boyd delivers the Tigers’ sixth straight win.

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