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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: The Tigers could really use a series win

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Matt Boyd and the Tigers look to ruin Kohl Stewart’s major league debut.

Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Nearly three weeks have passed since the Detroit Tigers wrapped up their last series victory. Last time, it was the Kansas City Royals in late July. Given the state of the division, it’s no surprise that their next chance comes on Sunday against another AL Central opponent. With a somewhat resurgent Matt Boyd taking the mound at Comerica Park to duel a green rookie making his major league debut, things aren’t going to set up much better for the home team the rest of the season. Let’s do this.

In Saturday’s game preview, Rob rightly put the damper on hopes of an offensive outburst at home. The Tigers have the worst road offense in baseball by many measures. The modest improvement they’ve displayed at home over the course of the season has been good only in comparison. With a rookie going for Minnesota, one would hope the Tigers can take advantage, but it’s by no means a sure thing. On the plus side, the Twins’ offense is worse than it was a few weeks ago after trading away Eduardo Escobar and Brian Dozier, and it wasn’t particularly good to begin with.

Matt Boyd seems primed to for a strong outing on Sunday. After struggling mightily from early May to the All-Star break, and killing any chance of a trade in the process, Boyd has been steadier since. His 24.7 percent strikeout rate, with a stellar walk rate of just 4.1 percent, speak to real improvement in the second half. He gave up a pair of home runs, and four runs, to the Angels in his last outing as his road struggles continued. At home, Boyd’s FIP is half a run better. As long as he can put the spacious confines of Comerica Park to work containing the Twins’ flyballs, he should keep them in check.

The other factor with Boyd is his resurgent velocity. After struggling with some dead arm in the spring that left him struggling to hit 90 mph on the radar gun, Boyd has gotten loose of late. Per Brooks Baseball, he’s averaging over 91-92 mph recently and topping out at 94 when he wants a little extra. Better zip on the fastball isn’t everything, but it helps to separate his fastballs from his secondary pitches, and probably means his arm is feeling relatively good as the late stages of the season begin.

Minnesota Twins (54-62) at Detroit Tigers (48-69)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Kohl Stewart (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (6-10, 4.33 ERA)

Game 118 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 122.2 21.8 7.8 3.98 2.1
Stewart (AAA) 40.2 17.5 7 4.16

Kohl Stewart didn’t crack FanGraphs top 30 list for the Minnesota Twins heading into 2018, though the shine hasn’t entirely left him in others’ opinions. He has been decent since returning to the Triple-A level near the beginning of July. The former fourth overall pick as a prep prospect by the Twins back in 2013, Stewart stalled out early in terms of his secondary pitches and command. As a result, he’s really never found the strikeout touch that would predict real success in the major leagues. He’s still young enough to put things together, but it’ll take a breakthrough in some element of his game to keep him in the majors as a starter.

Stewart features a big fastball, a pair of solid breaking balls and a mediocre change. He’ll ramp his sinker up to 97 mph at times and gets a heavy percentage of groundballs. However, the sinker doesn’t always play as well as it should due to inconsistent movement and location. The same can be said for a curveball/slider combination that will flash above average, but aren’t consistent sharp enough to get the ratio of whiffs the Twins would like to see. His changeup has consistently graded out as his worst pitch, and as a result, he should be more vulnerable to Tigers left-handed hitters like Niko Goodrum and Jeimer Candelario. Particularly if they can shake him with some early baserunners.

Still, Stewart tends to be around the strike zone, and the sinker is enough to get easy outs at times. If he’s able to locate at the bottom of the zone, everything will play up a bit and against a weak offense like the Tigers’, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Stewart frustrate them and post a quality outing.

Key Matchup: How’s your small ball?

It’s entirely possible that both Boyd and Stewart pitch well against two of the worst offenses in the game. It’s less likely that either racks up huge strikeout totals. The ball is going to be put in play and this one should be decided by defense and baserunning instead of dominant starting pitching or outbursts of home run power. Whoever plays the cleaner game is likely to emerge on top.

Prediction

The time feels right for Matt Boyd to toss a good one, so we’ll say it’s a Tigers win in a nail biter.