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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: Detroit hits the road to face the division leaders

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Everything has been working for Jake Odorizzi and the Twins.

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Minnesota Twins v New York Mets Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Tigers go back on the road after splitting a mini homestand against the Royals and Angels, looking either great and horrendous, depending on the night. The offense had a nice double-digit output on Wednesday against Los Angeles, but every other contest saw mild results. Meanwhile, the pitching left much to be desired, and unfortunately that trend will probably continue into the weekend.

Thanks to some earlier weather issues, the Tigers will be playing four games in three days against the Twins. Doubleheaders always cause some strain on the bullpen, and Friday’s starter is unlikely to do Detroit many favors. Maybe this is sounds a little harsh, but Tyson Ross has not been good in 2019.

Friday marks Ross’s seventh start with the Tigers, and the previous six have been rough. Take out a solid seven-inning, one-run outing a month ago and he is left with a 6.56 ERA with under five innings per start. Perhaps this is unfairly skewed by his most recent appearance, which came after his return from paternity leave, but there is no way to sugarcoat his early results.

The Twins are starting to build a cushion atop the AL Central and are sporting a top-five offense in baseball. The Tigers’ rotation has some fun young arms who are pitching well right now, but Ross is certainly not one of them. This one could get ugly.

Detroit Tigers (16-18) vs. Minnesota Twins (23-12)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Tyson Ross (1-4, 5.34 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi (4-2, 2.78 ERA)

Game 35 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Ross 30.1 16.8 10.2 5.14 0.1
Odorizzi 35.2 26.6 10.5 3.08 1.0

In 2018, Jake Odorizzi did not quite live up to the expectations the Twins placed on him after acquiring the starter from the Rays, but this season has been a different story so far. Though his walks are at a career high, the 29-year-old has impressed with a 2.78 ERA and 26.6 percent strikeout rate, both much better than his normal rates. Some of this could be contributed to small sample size, but his appearances do include three starts against the Astros and Yankees.

As one would expect with elevated strikeout numbers, Odorizzi has been solid at limiting contact, dropping his contact rate down to 71.8 percent this season. This comes despite a reduced swing rate, but with a 12.6 percent swinging strike rate, meaning that opponents are choosing to swing less often but are struggling to make contact when they do swing. This is interesting because his hard hit rate (34.8 percent) and ground ball to fly ball rate (0.54) are about the same as last season.

Hitters have not seemed to have figured out the righthander yet, but given the quality of contact they are sustaining, it is possible that Odorizzi is susceptible to some regression. Home runs are likely to increase, and inflated walks are not a great sign. As always, though, it feels unwise to project the Tigers as the team to ruin a good thing an opposing pitcher has going.

Key matchup: Niko Goodrum vs. a slump

The Tigers’ versatile cleanup hitter started the season hot, posting 121 wRC+ through the first month or so and looking like a stable option in a lineup starved for talent. Unfortunately, he has hit a bit of a bump since then, batting just .182/.229/.273 over the past two weeks with just one extra base hit. Regardless of the comments made by the batter hitting in front of him, Niko Goodrum needs to find his form.

Prediction

The Detroit bullpen sees the mound early, which is not a great sign for the weekend.