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Tigers vs. Indians Preview: Struggling offense, meet struggling offense

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The stoppable force meets the movable object as two bad offenses face two bad pitchers.

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Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

I think we figured it out.

For three games, lefthander Ryan Carpenter, who has endured a rather awful start to his MLB career, was a useful starter for the Detroit Tigers. “Useful” may even be under-selling it; Carpenter put up a 2.65 ERA with 11 strikeouts to just two walks in 17 innings across three games. The Tigers won two of them, and Carpenter’s ERA was literally cut in half, moving from 13.00 to 6.23.

Prior to those three games, we wrote previews that were... not the nicest, let’s say.

  • On May 25, we said “Carpenter hasn’t even offered that sort of giddy, ‘this might be crazy enough to work’ optimism yet.” He responded with a pair of runs allowed and five strikeouts in five innings.
  • On May 29, we said “Carpenter is who he is at this point in his career, a spot starter with little upside.” He held the Orioles to two runs in five innings of work.
  • On June 4, we called Carpenter “a guy who probably does not belong in the majors.” He gave us and the Rays offense the finger by holding the Rays to two runs in seven innings for his first win of 2019.

We missed out on a preview before Carpenter’s last start, however, and he coughed up eight runs on 10 hits in just 3 23 innings.

Coincidence? I think not.

Cleveland Indians (34-33) at Detroit Tigers (25-40)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Adam Plutko (2-1, 5.19 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Carpenter (1-3, 7.89 ERA)

Game 68 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Bieber 77.1 30.0 6.3 4.22 1.2
Soto 13.2 15.9 10.1 6.89 -0.1

Matching up with Carpenter is righthander Adam Plutko, who has been just a hair better in his young major league career. Plutko, 27, has a 5.34 ERA in 97 23 MLB innings, and has been worth -0.5 fWAR. He has a paltry 18 percent career strikeout rate, and is giving up a whopping 2.58 home runs per nine innings.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise, given his arsenal. Plutko’s fastball sits in the low 90s, and has topped out at 93.9 mph in 2019. He relies mostly on a slider that he has thrown a bit harder this season, but it still only generates whiffs 15.3 percent of the time. The curveball and changeup that he throws to lefties don’t generates swings and misses, and don’t induce many ground balls either.

In fact, nothing Plutko throws generates much contact on the ground. His 25.9 percent ground ball rate ranks 20th lowest among 467 pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings this season, while his 51.9 percent fly ball rate is the 21st-highest. This explains all the home runs — opponents are hitting so many because the ball is in the air all the time — but doesn’t excuse his otherwise lackluster performance. He doesn’t live at the top of the strike zone, like some fly ball artists, but his fastball rides high and generates plenty of balls in the air.

Key matchup: Both offenses vs. scoring runs

Hey, the Tigers have a partner this time! Detroit currently owns the worst offense in the American League, with a 78 wRC+ on the year. But, as our friends at Let’s Go Tribe helpfully pointed out, the Indians are just three percentage points better, at an 81 wRC+.

Prediction

Carpenter reads our preview, and decides to pitch well to spite us. The Tigers lose anyway.