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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: Please just win a game, Tigers

The Tigers are trying to avoid their third consecutive sweep on Thursday afternoon.

Oakland Athletics v Chicago White Sox - Game One Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers have lost eight games in a row, which isn’t fun for anyone. If they drop their ninth in a row on Thursday, they will have been swept in three consecutive series. They are nearing two weeks without a ‘W,’ and are losing games in every way imaginable. Bad pitching? They did that all weekend in Cleveland. Blowing leads? Tuesday’s loss was really painful. Zero offense? Happened last night.

Thankfully, Thursday’s pitching matchup is a welcome distraction. The A’s did everyone a favor when they pushed lefthander Sean Manaea back a day in the rotation. The move set up a showdown between Manaea and Tigers righthander Michael Fulmer. The two faced off back in 2016, when Fulmer was on his way to the AL Rookie of the Year crown. He out-dueled Manaea in Oakland, limiting the A’s to just three hits in 7 23 scoreless innings.

The tables might be turning this year, though. Fulmer’s struggles are well-documented around these parts, and he struggled again in his last start despite striking out nine Cincinnati Reds hitters. Manaea, on the other hand, is enjoying his best season to date, including his first career no-hitter. Can Fulmer turn things around and finally deliver a win for the Tigers?

Oakland Athletics (43-38) at Detroit Tigers (36-45)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Sean Manaea (7-6, 3.40 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (3-6, 4.17 ERA)

Game 82 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Manaea 100.2 18.5 4.7 4.19 1.0
Fulmer 86.1 20.9 8.4 4.23 1.1

Manaea and Fulmer have had similar starts to their careers in a number of ways. Both were highly regarded arms that were dealt to new teams at the 2015 trade deadline, and both have produced solid results despite not racking up the strikeouts many projected as they rose through the minor leagues. Fulmer had more injury issues in the minors than Manaea, and wasn’t quite as heralded by national pundits when he reached the majors, but he enjoyed a bit more early success than Oakland’s big lefthander (as evidenced by that shiny AL Rookie of the Year trophy on his mantle).

Manaea has had the upper hand this year, though. His strikeout rate has actually dropped from the middling 20 percent rates he posted in 2016 and 2017, but he has also halved his walk rate in the process. He is also benefiting from a .220 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), but I think there’s more at play here than just good luck. He has been mixing his pitches effectively, with a near 50-50 split between his fastball and slider in all situations against left-handed hitters. Righties see more of the fastball, but also have to watch for his excellent changeup about one-third of the time in all counts. His 10.1 percent swinging strike rate also belies the low strikeout rate.

Key matchup: Fulmer vs. A’s hitters

Fulmer has only made two career starts against Oakland, including the aforementioned gem during his rookie year, but both have gone extremely well. In those two outings, Fulmer has given up just one earned run in 15 23 innings. He has more strikeouts (12) than hits allowed (11), and has yet to give up a home run. That last stat will likely change today (nice jinx, Rob), but Fulmer has looked exceedingly comfortable against Oakland’s aggressive lineup so far in his career. He still has yet to face a number of their current hitters, though, including Franklin Barreto, Matt Olson, and leadoff hitter Dustin Fowler.

Prediction

Manaea and the A’s hand the Tigers their ninth loss in a row.

Gameday reading