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Tigers vs. Athletics Preview: The Tigers offense is bad and that makes baseball not fun

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When the Tigers turn every pitcher they face into an ace, it’s hard to get excited about their games.

Detroit Tigers v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

I don’t know what to say about this game. Writing 162 previews a year is already hard enough when the team you are covering is good at baseball. Storylines get repetitive, and there are only so many ways to describe what your team’s pitchers are doing. The variety provided by the opposition helps, of course, but it still drags a bit at this time of year.

But when your team is bad and turns every starting pitcher into an ace? It becomes all that much more difficult.

Today’s budding ace is Trevor Cahill. The 30-year-old righthander has enjoyed a solid season so far, allowing a 3.39 ERA and 3.50 FIP through 69 innings. Once a league average starter for the A’s and Diamondbacks earlier this decade, Cahill was moved to the bullpen towards the end of his time in Arizona. He eventually latched on with the Chicago Cubs, and won a ring with them in 2016 (though he didn’t pitch in their playoff run). He landed back in Oakland this year on a cheap contract, and is now in the midst of one of his best seasons to date.

We could go into the details, but it almost doesn’t matter. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan pointed out some interesting trends after Cahill’s hot start in 2017, and Nick Pollack did so again for 2018. Cahill is good, and the A’s bullpen is better. That should make for yet another long afternoon for the Tigers offense.

Detroit Tigers (47-64) at Oakland Athletics (66-46)

Time/Place: 4:05 p.m., Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-5, 4.41 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Cahill (3-2, 3.39 ERA)

Game 112 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Liriano 85.2 19.2 13.4 5.17 0.2
Cahill 69.0 23.7 8.0 3.50 1.3

Francisco Liriano’s starts have been rather awful to watch ever since he came off the disabled list in late June. He has not pitched well in those outings — he had a 5.88 ERA in six starts before last week’s mop-up appearance out of the bullpen — sapping any trade value that he had built up earlier in the season.

But why were things so bad? I thought it was the walks, but Liriano’s walk rate hasn’t gone up that much since his injury.

Pre-DL: 12.4%
Post-DL: 15.3%

While there’s an increase there, it’s not like watching him walk 12 percent of all hitters would be fun either. Liriano has slightly ramped up his strikeout rate since the injury as well, somewhat helping to offset all the walks.

No, the issue just seems to be how opponents are seeing the ball against him. Take his line drive rates, for instance.

Pre-DL: 16.6%
Post-DL: 28.6%

While he was actually allowing more hard contact before going on the disabled list, most of that contact was in the air. His fly ball rate has dropped by 12 percentage points, resulting in a near 150-point increase in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Opponents are pulling the ball more as well, and his home run rate has gone up slightly.

Key matchup: The Tigers vs. scoring runs

There’s a very real possibility that the Tigers only score one run in this series. They have been limited to two runs or fewer in six of their last 10 road games, and are scoring just 3.44 runs per game on the road this season. I shudder to think of how many they will score over this entire six-game road trip.

Prediction

The Tigers get shut out again in the series finale.

Gameday reading