Remember last September, when the Tigers tanked their way to glory and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft? While the benefits were nice, the month itself was miserable. Detroit went 6-23 and were outscored by nearly 100 runs. It was one of the worst finishes to a season in recent memory, and left people wondering if the 2018 Tigers would be as bad as the 2003 squad.
Well, it’s happening again. The Tigers are 7-18 in August so far, and are dropping like a rock in the standings. They have not been as badly outplayed as they were in September — their run differential for the month is “only” — but there’s still time. The Tigers have been horrible away from home all season long, and have won just one of their 12 road games in August. They will finish off the month with a four-game series against the New York Yankees, who have a .676 win percentage at Yankee Stadium this year.
That should end well, right? Somehow, it gets worse. The Tigers will kick off the series with Francisco Liriano on the mound, who has a 6.88 ERA in his last four starts, all losses. He shouldn’t be in the rotation at this point, frankly, but we will have to watch at least one more (and likely six more) of his starts for reasons.
The Yankees will counter with J.A. Happ, who has been a flamethrowing hellbeast ever since arriving in New York. This should be fun.
Detroit Tigers (53-79) at New York Yankees (84-49)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-9, 4.82 ERA) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (15-6, 3.80 ERA)
Game 2 Pitching Matchup
For the second time in four years, J.A. Happ was dealt to a contender at the trade deadline. For the second time in four years, Happ responded to the trade by morphing into one of the best pitchers in baseball. The 35-year-old lefthander is perfect in five starts with the Yankees so far, amassing a 5-0 record with a 2.37 ERA in 30 1⁄3 innings. He has 32 strikeouts to just eight walks during that span, and has not allowed more than three runs in a start. It’s not quite what he pulled off in 2015, when he spun a 1.85 ERA across 11 starts with the Pirates, but it’s close.
If there’s a change to be found here, it’s actually in his slider. Happ has thrown his fastball nearly 75 percent of the time this year, but his slider usage has picked up considerably over the past month. It hasn’t changed in any way — he isn’t throwing it any harder, it’s not bending any more, and it isn’t suddenly generating a bunch of whiffs — so I’m not sure what to make of it. He’s not even mixing it differently; his slider usage is nearly identical on the first pitch of an at-bat or when behind in the count.
It feels a bit lazy to chalk Happ’s crazy numbers up to just luck, though. His strand rate and batting average on balls in play (BABIP) are certainly going to regress, but I think those gushing over what he has done in New York so far are ignoring the fact that he was pretty darn good in Toronto too. He has a 27.2 percent strikeout rate on the year, and it has actually gone down ever so slightly since changing teams. His FIP was a hair better too.
Key matchup: Mud Hens vs. Indians
Let’s be honest, the Tigers won’t be worth watching tonight (if at all this weekend). Instead of pulling your hair out when the Yankees put up double digit runs in ever game, invest your time and fandom into the Toledo Mud Hens, who are fighting for a playoff spot. The Hens have an important game against the Indianapolis Indians on Thursday evening, who are 1 1⁄2 games ahead of them in the playoff race. The Hens also have a chance to catch the Columbus Clippers, who are in first, 2 1⁄2 games ahead of Toledo; the Hens and Clippers play a four-game series over the weekend.
Liriano and the Tigers win this game because baseball.