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Tigers vs. Pirates Preview: Detroit offense takes aim at rookie Mitch Keller

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Keller has a golden chance to log his best MLB outing to date on Tuesday.

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MLB: Game Two-Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Righthander Mitch Keller has been one of the top prospects in baseball over the past few years. He was a consensus top-20 prospect heading into the 2018 season, and only fell back a few spots after the Pirates refused to promote him during the year. Keller finally got the call after striking out 56 batters in 47 innings at Triple-A Indianapolis this season, but his MLB debut did not go well. He was tagged for six runs on seven hits in four innings by the Cincinnati Reds, though he did strike out seven. After two more outings at Triple-A — including a 13-strikeout performance against the Mud Hens on June 7 — Keller was once again rocked by an MLB lineup.

Lucky for him, he won’t be facing much of one on Tuesday. The Tigers have been one of baseball’s worst offenses in 2019, and sit dead last in the American League with a 76 wRC+ through their first 68 (and seven-ninths) games. Their 26.4 percent strikeout rate is also worst in the AL, and only four MLB clubs (including the Pirates) draw fewer walks. They have been bad by just about every measure, something Jay Jaffe noted on ESPN when ranking the 30 lineups across Major League Baseball.

30. Detroit Tigers

They don’t have a single player hitting for even a 110 wRC+, and their five players above 100 include such luminaries as Gordon Beckham and Brandon Dixon, both part-timers. Nick Castellanos is barely outside of that group, depressing his trade value, and Miguel Cabrera has just four homers, a .394 slugging percentage and 0.3 fWAR. There’s a long way to go in this rebuilding effort, to say the least.

Their issues are exacerbated against righthanders, where they rank as the worst offense in baseball, per wRC+.

Detroit Tigers (25-43) at Pittsburgh Pirates (32-39)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., PNC Park
SB Nation site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-5, 4.52 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Keller (0-1, 15.43 ERA)

Game 70 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Norris 67.2 18.3 6.1 4.73 0.7
Keller 7.0 22.5 10.0 4.18 0.1

For all the concerns about his velocity, Daniel Norris seems to have found his strikeout touch lately. He fanned six hitters in his last start, a five-inning effort against the Kansas City Royals, and has induced 26 strikeouts in his last 27 23 innings, dating back to May 22.

Unfortunately, those strikeouts haven’t necessarily come with the best results. Norris has a 4.55 ERA during that same five-start stretch, and has logged six innings in just two of his 11 starts on the year. Opponents have managed 70 hits off him in 59 13 innings as a starter, including nine home runs. His average exit velocity of 91.0 percent is among the bottom 30 pitchers in baseball (minimum 50 batted balls), and his Deserved Run Average — which takes quality of contact and exit velocity into account — is 6.65, a career-worst.

Key matchup: Tigers offense vs. scoring runs on the road

Surprisingly, the Tigers have been a tougher out on the road this season compared to at home. They aren’t great shakes while playing away from Comerica Park, scoring just 3.6 runs per game, but their 82 wRC+ and 14-19 record are much better than the alternative — the Tigers have lost 17 of their last 19 home games.

They have struggled in interleague play, however, winning just three of 13 games while being outscored by 15 runs.

Prediction

Keller gets his feet under him and the Tigers drop their fifth in a row.