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Tigers vs. Mets Preview: Spencer Turnbull looking to bounce back in series finale

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Turnbull’s last few outings haven’t been quite as good as what we have become accustomed to.

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Spencer Turnbull has already spoiled us. The 26-year-old rookie burst out of the gates at the start of the year, locking up a job in spring training before pitching his way to a 2.53 ERA in April. He could have had four or five wins in that month alone had he not continually been hung out to dry by his offense, and has already gotten a bit of attention as a possible Rookie of the Year.

Turnbull continued that success in his first start in May, with a brilliant seven-inning performance against the Kansas City Royals that lowered his ERA to 2.31. Since then, however, he has struggled a bit. He has not made it through six innings in any of his last three starts, and has allowed eight walks and three home runs in just 14 23 innings pitched.

His ERA during this “rough patch?” An unfathomable 3.68.

Yes, life is good when it comes to watching Mr. Turnbull pitch. He has kept his team within striking distance in all but one of his starts this year, and has the raw stuff to get big league hitters out even when he isn’t at his best, as the above ERA attests.

It’s more fun when he is at his best, though. Here’s hoping he settles in against the Mets on Sunday.

Detroit Tigers (19-30) at New York Mets (25-26)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Citi Field
SB Nation site: Amazin’ Avenue
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-3, 2.68 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Wheeler (3-3, 4.74 ERA)

Game 52 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Norris 46.0 17.1 5.7 4.65 0.5
Ynoa 17.2 22.5 7.5 4.29 0.1

Don’t let Zack Wheeler’s elevated ERA fool you; he has been really good in 2019. Like a certain maligned former Tigers pitcher turned Cy Young winner, Wheeler’s ERA is worse than it looks because of a couple of bad outings. He gave up seven runs in 4 23 innings against the Washington Nationals back in early April, and coughed up six runs on 11 hits to those same Nationals on May 16.

His ERA against everyone else? Just 3.46, which is much closer to the 3.21 FIP he has managed through 10 starts in 2019. He has upped his strikeout rate slightly from last season, when he fanned just under a batter per inning. His repertoire has hardly budged, though, save for a slight bump in slider and curveball velocity. The fastball is still humming along at 97 miles per hour, while the changeup/splitter (primarily used against lefties) comes in at 89 mph.

Against righties, Wheeler works primarily fastball-slider, with a bit of his curveball mixed in. The slider is a beast, sitting around 92 miles per hour. It doesn’t generate as many swings and misses as you might think, however; opponents whiffed on it 14 percent of the time last year, and just 11.8 percent of the time in 2019. Right-handed opponents are batting over .300 against both off-speed offerings this year, though given the weird splits outlined above, it remains to be seen how much that is affected by his weird struggles against the Nationals.

Given how poor the Tigers are against good right-handed pitching, I’d wager that Wheeler has little to worry about on Sunday.

Key matchup: The Tigers offense vs. sacrifice bunts

Through 50 games, the Tigers have yet to record a sacrifice bunt. This isn’t for a lack of trying — the Tigers biffed a couple of attempts on Saturday that could have potentially turned the tide of an eventual 5-4 loss. But with those failures, their streak of sacrifice-less games continued. They are now tied for the second-longest of such streaks in MLB history to open a season, at 50 games. The record? The 2003 Toronto Blue Jays, with 51. Can the Tigers avoid putting down a successful sacrifice bunt on Sunday, and tie what we think is the holiest of all team achievements?

Prediction

The Mets edge out a low-scoring win to take the series.