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Tigers vs. Angels Series Preview: Brad Ausmus returns as Detroit continues their homestand

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Brad Ausmus returns to Detroit as an opposing manager, which will be interesting for about five seconds.

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MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since departing as the Detroit Tigers’ manager following the 2017 season, Brad Ausmus is returning to Comerica Park. Well, on the field, at least. We don’t know if he was there in another capacity when his Los Angeles Angels visited town last year — Ausmus was in a front office role at the time — but fans will get to voice their opinion on how Ausmus did whenever he takes the field in this upcoming series.

You know, the one or two times a game a manager actually steps onto the field. This is a different situation than when a former player returns; there is no designated pause in the action, such as when a hitter steps up to the batter’s box, or when a pitcher enters or exits the game.

And that’s it, really. Aside from the random quotes and anecdotes we hear from Ausmus and others throughout the week, this will be a normal three-game set. The Angels enter the series on a nice run of late, with wins in six of their last nine games. They have run hot and cold throughout the year, with four separate win or loss streaks of four games or more. Their pythagorean expected win-loss record is a game better than their current 15-19 mark, but the home-road splits are pretty severe. Away from Angels Stadium, the Halos have gone 4-10 while being outscored by 18 runs.

Can the Tigers take advantage of their former skipper and his team’s road woes this week? Or will Ausmus get the last laugh against his old club?

Statistical comparison: Tigers vs. Angels

Overview Tigers Angels Advantage
Overview Tigers Angels Advantage
Batting (wRC+) 83 (13th) 99 (8th) Angels
Fielding (DRS) -19 (12th) 10 (6th) Angels
Rotation (ERA-) 81 (3rd) 134 (14th) Tigers
Bullpen (ERA-) 121 (14th) 101 (9th) Angels
Total fWAR 5.1 (10th) 5.0 (11th) Tigers

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the Angels have been undone by their awful starting pitching so far in 2019. They have their usual cast of injured starters, including a brief stint on the injured list for lefthander Tyler Skaggs, which is a big improvement over the past few years. But Skaggs has been one of the few reliable arms on the roster. Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, and Chris Stratton have combined for 19 starts this season, and have a collective 7.43 ERA through 99 13 innings. Even wins and losses tell a coherent story; Angels starters are 7-12 this season, with the three aforementioned righthanders a combined 2-8 through the first month-plus of the regular season.

Is there help on the way? Well... sort of. Rookie righthander Griffin Canning was knocked around a bit in his MLB debut, but also showed flashes of potential with six strikeouts in 4 13 innings. Skaggs has been solid when healthy, and Felix Pena has been a decent option when paired with an opener. Lefthander Andrew Heaney might be helpful if he returns from his elbow injury when expected at the end of May, but the Angels haven’t exactly had any good luck in that department over the past several years. If they can stay in the AL Wild Card race for the next couple months, we might see them make an addition or two at the trade deadline.

Game times, TV listings, streaming info, etc.

Game 1: Tuesday, May 7, 7:10 p.m.
Game 2: Wednesday, May 8, 7:10 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday, May 9, 1:10 p.m.
Venue: Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich.
SB Nation site: Halos Heaven
Media (all games): Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Angels lineup

Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Player Pos. PA HR RBI wRC+
Tommy La Stella 3B 101 7 19 130
Mike Trout CF 136 7 20 174
Brian Goodwin LF 112 4 11 151
Andrelton Simmons SS 141 3 17 99
Albert Pujols DH 124 5 17 96
Kole Calhoun RF 137 8 19 104
Jonathan Lucroy C 105 4 14 98
Justin Bour 1B 102 3 13 63
Luis Rengifo 2B 30 0 1 48

The Angels have been quite average as a team offensively this year, ranking in the middle of the American League pack in both runs scored and wRC+. While one might expect a bit more out of a lineup that sports the best player in the world, Mike Trout isn’t getting much help. Left fielder Brian Goodwin has been a revelation since the Angels claimed him off waivers in March (from the Royals!), and Tommy La Stella has a 130 wRC+ that recently earned him a promotion up to the top of the lineup.

That’s about it, though. Several others have offered roughly league average production, like Kole Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons, but the Angels have gotten precious little from the bottom of their lineup. Justin Bour’s rapid drop-off from a stellar 2017 campaign has continued this year, and Jonathan Lucroy was sporting a wRC+ around 80 before he hit a pair of home runs on Sunday. Meanwhile, Luis Rengifo’s 48 wRC+ is actually a big upgrade from what Zack Cozart produced before he landed on the injured list.

We could see a couple of tweaks to the Angels’ lineup in this series. Shohei Ohtani insists that he is healthy enough to hit after undergoing Tommy John surgery last fall, and could be activated this week. Utility man David Fletcher has been used as the team’s leadoff hitter against left-handed pitchers, so he will likely see action against both Norris and Boyd. A stiff back held La Stella out of action on Sunday, and may keep him sidelined for a bit longer. Former Tiger Justin Upton will not see action, though; after suffering a toe injury at the end of spring training, he was recently moved to the 60-day injured list.

Pitching matchups

Game 1: RHP Griffin Canning (0-0, 6.23 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-0, 3.47 ERA)

Griffin Canning rose quickly through the Angels’ farm system, reaching the majors less than two years after he was drafted. This was especially surprising considering Canning was shut down after being drafted in 2017 due to his workload and injury concerns. He rewarded the Angels’ patience with a dominant 2018 campaign, in which he posted a 1.97 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 45 23 innings at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A. While he struggled there in 2018, he put together three dominant starts in the minors to open the season. He struck out six in his major league debut on April 30, but also gave up three runs on four hits in 4 13 innings.

Game 2: LHP Tyler Skaggs (3-2, 3.12 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (3-2, 3.05 ERA)

Tyler Skaggs was a trendy breakout pick this spring, especially in fantasy baseball circles. The 27-year-old lefthander has somewhat rewarded that faith so far, lowering his ERA by nearly a full run compared to how he finished the 2018 season. His WHIP is also a bit lower, which fantasy owners appreciate, but he has also seen a drop in his strikeout and swinging strike rates. The whiff rate is particularly concerning, because he has fallen back to pre-2018 levels — the 11 percent swinging strike rate Skaggs posted last year was the main reason for everyone’s optimism heading into this season. He has been a bit wild lately too, with three walks in both of his last two outings.

Game 3: TBD vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-4, 5.34 ERA)

The Angels have juggled their starting rotation a bit over the past week thanks to a trio of off days, and a starter for Thursday has not yet been announced. Anyone on their roster will be fair game save for Matt Harvey, who was lit up for five runs in 4 23 innings on Sunday. The most likely option seems to be Felix Pena, likely via some sort of opener.

Trevor Cahill is also a possibility, but he too was tagged by the Houston Astros over the weekend. Or the Angels could instead choose to give him an extra day off before pitching against Baltimore over the weekend.

What we’re rooting for: #CLEGANEBOWL, except baseball managers

The Hound vs. the Mountain? Nah, give us Ausmus and Gardenhire in a trial by combat instead.

Or a few fiery ejections, at least.