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Tigers vs. Blue Jays Preview: Detroit aims for series split in Canada

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The Tigers will have to go through rookie lefthander Ryan Borucki if they want a second straight win in Toronto.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’m about done trying to analyze this team. The 2018 Tigers have been a mystery from day one, winning games they shouldn’t and largely sticking in the thick of the AL Central race. They have been more predictable lately, with their recent 12-game losing streak serving as a massive correction for what has been a surprising season thus far.

Even the way the Tigers have gone about their business has been surprising. Many expected the offense, led by Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos, to carry the load. While those two have performed well — or Cabrera did, up until his season-ending injury — one could argue that their starting pitching has been their strong suit. Had you heard that, you might expect to see Michael Fulmer carrying the load while Daniel Norris takes a major step forward, right?

Umm... not so much. Fulmer’s 4.20 ERA is currently the worst among the Tigers’ five starting pitchers, while Norris has pitched all of 15 13 innings before undergoing groin surgery. Matthew Boyd’s performance has been promising (and not all that unexpected), but recent regression has him fourth in the rotation with a 4.18 ERA.

Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Fiers are leading the way, at 3.91 and 4.04, respectively (yes, Francisco Liriano is in there too).

Normally, this is the part where I explain that stat. But not here, because I can’t. Baseball is just weird sometimes.

Detroit Tigers (37-48) at Toronto Blue Jays (39-44)

Time/Place: 1:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation site: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Fiers (5-5, 4.04 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Borucki (0-1, 3.00 ERA)

Game 86 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fiers 84.2 17.4 5.2 4.92 0.5
Borucki 6.0 11.1 14.8 4.10 0.1

Just reaching the major leagues was a victory for Ryan Borucki. The 24-year-old lefthander was a 15th round pick of the Blue Jays back in 2012. While he was a high school arm that signed an over-slot deal, he wasn’t exactly a high-upside prospect. Add in injuries to his elbow and shoulder — he missed all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery — and we’re halfway to a Hollywood movie script.

Of course, I say “halfway” because Borucki isn’t some grizzled veteran simply looking for a cup of coffee in the majors to close out his career. He’s 24, and still a potential back-end starter if he continues to hone his command. He only has 58 strikeouts in 77 innings at Triple-A Buffalo this year, and walked more batters (4) than he struck out (3) in his major league debut six days ago. The walks will need to come down; Borucki has issued more than three free passes per nine innings down in the minors this year.

The command is especially important because Borucki’s arsenal isn’t overpowering. Here’s what FanGraphs had to say when they mentioned him in their Blue Jays system write-up two years ago.

For a pitcher who has missed so much time with injury, Borucki is surprisingly adept at changing hitters’ eye level with a fringey fastball and potential plus changeup. Borucki had TJ late in 2012 (he signed one of several overslot, post-10th-round deals on this list) and missed all of 2013, then had shoulder and elbow problems again in 2015. He sits 87-90, throws strikes, and has an above-average changeup. His slider is fringey and the velo and braking ball limit his upside.

Borucki seems to have added velocity over the past two years, as he averaged 92 miles per hour with the fastball in his big league debut. He threw the changeup with abandon, and only mixed in a handful of sliders.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. scoring runs

This might be a day late after the Tigers were a spectacular Kevin Pillar catch from double digits, but they had fallen on hard times prior to that. The Tigers scored 29 runs throughout the entirety of their 12-game losing streak, and are averaging just 3.5 runs per game since Miguel Cabrera was placed on the disabled list in mid-June. They have eclipsed the five-run mark just three times during that stretch, and are 4-11 in those games. While Borucki is the exact kind of pitcher they have hammered this year — their 111 wRC+ against lefties is tied for fifth in baseball — runs have been hard to come by in recent weeks no matter who is on the mound.

Prediction

Fiers and the Tigers earn a split in another easy win.

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