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Tigers vs. Reds Preview: The stoppable force meets the movable object

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Reds starter Homer Bailey hasn’t been very good this year, but neither has the Tigers offense.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Those reading these previews throughout the season know that I have been bemoaning the Tigers’ offense (or lack thereof) lately. Detroit continues to own baseball’s worst offense over the past 30 days, with a paltry 68 wRC+. That is 10 points behind the next-worst team, and 16 behind the next American League club. They are hitting .225/.283/.345 since Miguel Cabrera went down for the season on June 12; I can’t fact check this in a timely manner, but I think it’s safe to say this is the worst line in baseball over that stretch.

I’m fascinated to see what happens when trainwreck meets trainwreck, though. Homer Bailey once looked like a promising young pitcher for the Reds. He put together back-to-back 200-inning seasons in 2012 and 2013, leading the club to offer him a six-year, $100 million extension prior to the 2014 season. Their fans were relatively optimistic about the deal at the time, but the few concerns voiced at that point — his relative lack of production and the organization’s limited budget — have since come to light. Injuries haven’t helped either; Bailey threw 145 23 innings in 2014, then just 125 13 total MLB frames from 2015 to 2017.

Worse yet for Reds fans, Bailey hasn’t been good in the few moments he has been healthy. He put up a 6.39 ERA in that handful of innings from 2015-17, and has a 6.29 ERA in 13 starts this season. He struck out eight in a start against the Cardinals on July 24 — his first in nearly two months following yet another injury — but glimpses of solid production from him have been few and far between this year.

So, what happens when the stoppable force meets the movable object? We’ll see on Tuesday.

Cincinnati Reds (48-58) at Detroit Tigers (45-62)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Red Reporter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Homer Bailey (1-7, 6.29 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (5-9, 4.53 ERA)

Game 108 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Bailey 68.2 14.5 8.2 5.84 -0.3
Boyd 109.1 21.8 8.3 4.00 1.8

I’m not sure which Matthew Boyd to believe at this point. We’ve seen a different Boyd lately, one with 13 strikeouts to two walks in 11 innings since the All-Star break. This Boyd has been using his fastball more lately — he has thrown it at least 40 percent of the time in four of his last five starts — and throwing it harder. Even without filtering for just fastballs, you can see that Boyd is reaching back for more heat when necessary.

The result has been success on par with what Boyd enjoyed earlier this season, but by completely different means. Gone is the super-heavy slider usage — he’s down to around 25 percent in his past three starts — as well as the walks. After issuing 22 free passes in 40 13 innings from May 22 to June 30, Boyd has walked just three hitters in July.

Key matchup: Boyd vs. what happened last time these teams met

About that. Boyd’s start in Cincinnati on June 19 was the beginning of the end, of sorts. He had a 3.23 ERA heading into that game, but gave up five runs in four innings. Four of those runs came on a Joey Votto grand slam that grazed off of Nicholas Castellanos’ glove in right field, but Boyd was hit hard all night long. He gave up 25 earned runs in his next 23 innings (including that start), which saw his ERA balloon to 4.75.

Can Boyd avoid the same fate in this game? It’s possible... but unlikely. As I mentioned prior to that start, the Reds have one of the best offenses in baseball against left-handed pitching. Their 107 team wRC+ against southpaws is fifth among MLB clubs, and they have three hitters at 139 or better. The recently departed Adam Duvall is not one of those players, but he is a lefty masher all the same. Boyd should have a little easier time keeping the ball in the park tonight — Votto’s grand slam would have been a routine fly out in Comerica Park — but he will need to figure out how to limit the hard contact this time.

Prediction

Bailey shuts down the Tigers and the Reds take game one.

Gameday reading