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Tigers vs. Marlins Series Preview: Who are these guys?

Tigers and Marlins fans alike will be wondering who exactly is on the other team in a three-game mid-week series.

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New York Mets v Miami Marlins
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

If you take a look at the Miami Marlins’ roster tomorrow and don’t recognize many names, you won’t be alone. The Marlins dove headfirst into yet another rebuild when they traded Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in the same week in December 2017, and future National League MVP Christian Yelich just a month later. We can debate the merits of such an endeavor elsewhere, but the result is crystal clear; this is one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball.

Of course, Marlins fans will be saying nearly the exact same things about the Tigers’ 2019 roster. Sure, Miguel Cabrera is still around, and they will recognize Jordan Zimmermann from his days as their division rival, but the Tigers have also endured plenty of roster turnover since trading away talented veterans like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. Neither team is all that recognizable at this point, especially since this is the first time the two clubs have squared off since 2016.

Statistical comparison: Tigers vs. Marlins

Overview Tigers Marlins Advantage
Overview Tigers Marlins Advantage
Batting (wRC+) 75 (15th) 65 (15th) Tigers
Fielding (DRS) -21 (13th) -9 (12th) Marlins
Rotation (ERA-) 105 (8th) 103 (11th) Marlins
Bullpen (ERA-) 129 (13th) 134 (14th) Tigers
Total fWAR 2.4 (14th) -0.2 (15th) Tigers

It comes as little surprise that the Marlins are one of the worst teams in baseball this year, considering the lack of big league talent and experience on their major league roster. They find themselves in a similar spot as the Tigers, both on the stat sheet — the statistical breakdown above is surprisingly similar — and in the clubhouse. Detroit has a few more high-paid veterans, but both clubs are sifting through several different prospects, retreads, and minor league free agents to find useful players for the future, or trade bait for the July deadline.

Also like the Tigers, Miami’s veterans have provided precious little in on-field production this season. Neil Walker has put together some solid numbers at the plate so far, but Starlin Castro, Martin Prado, and Curtis Granderson have all been below replacement level. The same goes for veteran arms like Wei-Yin Chen — who has been worse than Jordan Zimmermann, per ERA+, since they signed their five-year deals — and Sergio Romo.

The youth has yet to arrive in Miami as well. Lewis Brinson, 25, was their Opening Day center fielder, but was optioned to the minors in late April because of a brutal performance to open the season. Harold Ramirez is the only position player under 26 on the active roster, and has gotten off to a quiet start in his first week in the majors. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is the headliner on Miami’s major league roster, along with 23-year-old righthander Sandy Alcantara (who the Tigers will not face in the series).

Game times, TV listings, streaming info, etc.

Game 1: Tuesday, May 21, 7:10 p.m.
Game 2: Wednesday, May 22, 7:10 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday, May 23, 1:10 p.m.
Venue: Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich.
SB Nation site: Fish Stripes
Media (all games): Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Marlins lineup

Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Jon Berti CF 68 2 4 94
Garrett Cooper RF 32 0 2 37
Brian Anderson 3B 184 2 12 75
Neil Walker 1B 131 3 6 125
Starlin Castro 2B 182 3 12 55
Martin Prado DH 110 1 10 68
Jorge Alfaro C 130 6 13 104
Harold Ramirez LF 15 0 0 38
Miguel Rojas SS 154 0 12 62

Marlins skipper Don Mattingly has done a lot of toying with his lineups this year, especially recently, making the above batting order little more than a wild guess. Center fielder Jon Berti has moved up to the leadoff spot recently, batting there in three of Miami’s last five games. Assuming the oblique strain that pulled him out of Sunday’s lineup isn’t serious, he will likely bat first against Detroit’s lefties, and could slot in there against righthander Spencer Turnbull on Tuesday as well. Curtis GrandersonI know him! — has been the Marlins’ regular leadoff hitter, and could also bat there against Turnbull. If Berti is out, utility man Rosell Herrera is the likely fill-in, though further down the batting order.

I feel a bit more confident in predicting the next few spots. Right fielder Garrett Cooper hit second in all three games against the New York Mets last weekend, followed by Brian Anderson. Veteran Neil Walker hasn’t started a game against a left-handed pitcher this year, so expect guys like Starlin Castro and Martin Prado to move up in the order for the final two games of the series. Prado and Walker were the designated hitters in Miami’s two previous games in an American League park this year, so it’s possible they both find their way into the lineup.

The bottom of the order is a complete shot in the dark. Jorge Alfaro left Saturday’s game with a calf injury, but Mattingly said Alfaro “looked pretty good” in a later update, so expect him to catch at least a couple games in this series. Rookie Harold Ramirez has split time with Granderson in left field since making his MLB debut last week — read up on Ramirez here, courtesy of our friends at Fish Stripes — and should start against both lefties. Miguel Rojas will be penciled in somewhere; he has started all but one of the Marlins’ games at shortstop since April 15.

Pitching matchups

Game 1: LHP Caleb Smith (3-1, 2.25 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-3, 2.40 ERA)

Lefthander Caleb Smith is already a success story. Draft in the 14th round out of Sam Houston State — a school that has produced just four big leaguers since former Tiger Steve Sparks was around — Smith was a longshot just to reach the big leagues. He went to the Cubs for a hot second after the 2016 Rule 5 draft, but made his big league debut with the New York Yankees in 2017, throwing 18 23 replacement level innings. The Marlins acquired him that winter and unlocked some serious strikeout potential, as Smith fanned 88 batters in 77 13 innings with the Fish last season. He has been even tougher to square up in 2019, holding opponents to a 2.25 ERA while striking out 35.2 percent of the batters he faces. Better yet, his walk rate has taken a big step forward after being something of a hindrance last year.

Game 2: RHP José Ureña (1-6, 4.44 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 4.50 ERA)

José Ureña is the Marlins’ staff veteran, having been around since he made his major league debut with the club in 2015. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 2017, though, when he posted a 3.82 ERA with spotty peripheral numbers across 169 23 innings. He threw a career-high 174 frames for the Marlins last year and improved his advanced metrics, including lower walk and home run rates. Now a bit more of a two-pitch pitcher — he hasn’t featured the changeup quite as often in 2019 — Ureña has pushed his ground ball rate north of 50 percent for the first time. He was better against righties than lefties last year, which could make him a tough matchup for Detroit’s lineup.

Game 3: RHP Trevor Richards (1-5, 4.44 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (4-4, 3.41 ERA)

I’m going to let the folks at FanGraphs handle this one:

Trevor Richards’s rookie season told us one very important thing: he has an incredible changeup. Batters chased it out of the zone at an astonishing 52.5% of the time, whiffed at the pitch at a 24% clip, and held batters to a .166 BAA in over 700 thrown. It’s as legit of a secondary pitch as you’ll find. We often say to ‘trust a pitch, not the pitcher,’ though the same concept could apply to avoid Richards for his horrid four-seamer, a fastball that allowed a .927 OPS across 1200 thrown in 2018.

Richards is throwing the fastball less frequently in 2019, instead relying more on a slider that generates a lot of fly balls. I’m not sure how much I like that strategy, as sliders that end up in the air tend to go a long way. Richards seems to be learning that the hard way this year; his home run rate is up to 1.66 per nine innings, and he has allowed multiple homers in four of his last five starts. The slider isn’t the culprit, though. Four of the nine homers he has given up this season have come off the changeup.

What we’re rooting for: a dang win

Enough is enough. The Tigers have gone a full week without winning a game before, even when they were good, but rarely have they looked so overmatched and outclassed since this website was in existence. They have been outscored 50 to 12 in the six losses (55 to 15 if you count Sunday’s suspended game), which accounts for over 40 percent of their -88 run differential on the season.

Luckily, their opponent has arguably been even worse. Not only do the Marlins have baseball’s worst record at 13-31, but they also have the worst first-order (.269) and third-order win percentages (.273) of any club in Major League Baseball. Both teams are at or near the bottom of their respective leagues in Wins Above Replacement, but the Tigers have been nearly three wins better than Miami — roughly the same difference as between them and Chicago, at 12th. Plus, the Tigers have been relatively solid when playing other bad teams; they have a 10-8 record against clubs under .500 on the year, and were above .500 at home prior to last week’s meltdown.

But enough searching for a silver lining. Just end the streak, please.