Let’s just get this out of the way early; extending this “win streak” is going to be difficult task for the Tigers. The Atlanta Braves are one of the premier teams in the National League, with a strong balance between high-caliber young studs and proven veterans. Despite coming off a two-game sweep at the hands of the Nationals, the Braves are in prime playoff position right now, and are expected to stay there all season long.
Luckily for the Tigers, they will have one of their own talented youngsters going in the first game of their weekend series, which hopes to get off on the right foot. Spencer Turnbull, who returns from the bereavement list prior to Friday’s game, will face a lineup filled with formidable left-handed bats in Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Nick Markakis — not to mention the uber-talented Ronald Acuña Jr.
Turnbull has struggled against lefties, allowing a .369 on-base percentage and .807 OPS in 2019. Additionally, Braves hitters are top-10 in baseball in walks drawn against righties, and Turnbull is known to struggle with his command. They are also really good at home, with a 105 wRC+ at SunTrust Park in 2019.
To say things would be an uphill battle for the redhead would be an understatement. Can Turnbull continue Detroit’s win streak?
Detroit Tigers (21-32) at Atlanta Braves (30-26)
Time/Place: 7:20 p.m., SunTrust Park
SB Nation site: Talking Chop
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-4, 2.97 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-3, 5.67 ERA)
Game 55 Pitching Matchup
There is a glimmer of hope for Detroit. “Folty,” who the Braves expected to be the ace of their staff, has been brutal so far this season after a strong 2018. After being penciled in as the Opening Day starter, he experienced elbow discomfort after his first spring training appearance and did not start a game until April 27.
Unfortunately, injuries have been prominent during the 27-year-old’s career, as he was diagnosed with costochondritis in September 2015. The condition unfortunately developed into pneumonia and, from there, he developed blood clots in his right arm and had to undergo rib reduction surgery. He made a full recovery, as Folynewicz went on to start 22 games in 2016 before making his first career All-Star appearance in 2018.
However, recovering from the early elbow discomfort in 2019 has disrupted that All-Star ability; Foltynewicz allowed 19 earned runs in his first four starts. After his ERA peaked at 8.02 on May 14, Folynewicz has put together consecutive strong starts against quality Minnesota and St. Louis lineups, allowing two earned runs in 12 innings in the short stretch.
His main weakness so far has, ironically, been right-handed hitters. Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, and... whoever else Ron Gardenhire decides to start should have a golden opportunity to hopefully score at least five runs for the second time in the past two weeks (yeah, it has been a rough month).
If Turnbull can navigate the strong Atlanta lineup and the Tigers can capitalize on Foltynewicz’s mistakes, Detroit has a chance.
Key Matchup: the Tigers’ defense vs. balls in play
The Braves are one of the least strikeout-prone teams in the National League, and even though Turnbull has the ability to miss bats, he has only pitched into the seventh inning twice in 11 starts this season. This means that the Braves should have plenty of time to dance with the Tigers’ bad bullpen — one that ranks dead last in baseball in strikeout rate. As long as Atlanta hitters are putting balls in play (which seems likely), the Detroit defense will have to field them. This is something they have not been great at, especially on the infield. They rank 25th in baseball with -20 Defensive Runs Saved this year.
In a game that seems more even than it should be given the respective caliber of the two teams, one Tigers error could be the difference between a win and a loss.
Maybe I’m being optimistic, but this one has a chance to be a fun baseball game. However, the edge has to go to the probable playoff team, not the one that is 3-12 in their last 15 games.