The Tigers looked like a completely different team on Friday than they had for the previous week, scoring five runs in a much-needed win over the Minnesota Twins. This has been the case for most of the year, as the Tigers have banked 30 of their 48 wins at Comerica Park. They are three games over .500 at home, with a minus-7 run differential in 57 games. On the road? Eighteen wins to 41 losses, and nearly 100 more runs allowed than scored.
Unfortunately, there’s no big Reason For Optimism to follow. The Tigers have a couple more home games than road tilts remaining, but have dug themselves far too big a hole to have even the faintest hopes of playing in October. Fans are debating whether the team should aim to win a few more games, or take a page out of their 2017 playbook and tank for draft position.
Even this game could offer a large helping of humble pie. The Tigers have been better at home, but are still one of the worst offensive clubs in baseball, especially against right-handed pitching. Kyle Gibson has been one of Minnesota’s best starters this year, and already threw a quality start against the Tigers in late May. Plus, he’s facing off against Francisco Liriano, who has been one of Detroit’s worst pitchers over the past six weeks of action.
Minnesota Twins (53-62) at Detroit Tigers (48-68)
Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Kyle Gibson (5-9, 3.60 ERA) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (3-6, 4.37 ERA)
Game 117 Pitching Matchup
Gibson was not an All-Star this year, and is not an ace-caliber starter, but he has taken a huge step forward in 2018. Thanks to a massive uptick in strikeout rate, Gibson has lowered his ERA from 5.07 to 3.60. He is on pace for his best season to date — he’s already there, according to Baseball Reference — and would have been a perfect mid-rotation starter for a playoff contender had the Twins been able to keep everything together around him.
We outlined Minnesota’s larger problems on Friday, so let’s focus on Gibson. The 30-year-old righthander has thrown his four-seam fastball much more often over the past two years, and is featuring his curveball more often as well. While those two offerings have been his worst this year in terms of opponent production against, his other pitches have more than made up the difference. His slider is generating swings and misses at a 26.8 percent clip, and he is generating more pop-ups than ever before.
Key matchup: Francisco Liriano vs. watchability
Among players with at least 80 innings pitched this season, Francisco Liriano has the second-highest walk rate in baseball, at 13.2 percent. Only Chicago’s Tyler Chatwood is worse — an astounding 19.4 percent! Worse yet for Liriano is that his walk rate is even higher (14.4 percent) since he came off the disabled list in late June. He has a 5.18 ERA in that span, and his last quality start came back on July 4 (against Chatwood’s Cubs).
The final nail in the coffin is Liriano’s work rate. For the season, Liriano sits among the top 30 pitchers in baseball (min. 80 innings) at 22.4 seconds between pitches. However, since late June, he has added a full second to that average, which puts him further back in the pack. While he’s no Vince Velasquez (nearly 28 seconds between pitches), Liriano’s high walk rate turns his outings into a real grind, both for the teams playing and the fans watching at home.
The Tigers offense disappears and Minnesota evens the series.