clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tigers vs. Mariners Preview: Yusei Kikuchi’s weird numbers provide stiff test for Detroit

New, 10 comments

Kikuchi has struggled against AL West competition, but dominated everyone else.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Let’s get into the meat of the issue here: the Tigers need to win nine of their remaining 46* games to avoid tying their 2003 selves as the worst team in American League history. They don’t have to win on Tuesday against Yusei Kikuchi and the Seattle Mariners, but it would be a nice start. On the surface, Kikuchi’s numbers look beatable; he has a 5.34 ERA in 123 innings this year, and has given up more home runs (29) than any other pitcher in the American League. While the Tigers are worse than any other AL team at both scoring runs and hitting homers, facing someone with well-defined homer issues certainly helps.

At least, that was the prevailing thought prior to their previous meeting, when Kikuchi threw 6 23 innings of two-run ball in a 3-2 victory.

Surprisingly, the 28-year-old lefthander has done this more often than you might think in 2019. As FanGraphs pointed out in late July, Kikuchi’s bad numbers are almost entirely due to the repetitive nature of the Major League Baseball schedule. He had an ERA over 7.00 against AL West competition at the time, compared to a svelte 3.77 mark against non-divisional foes. That difference has only grown since then, as Kikuchi has logged 11 23 innings with just three runs allowed against his last two opponents outside the division. Meanwhile, the Astros tagged him for six runs in just four innings in early August.

All of this is to say that our friends at Fake Teams are drastically underestimating what kind of numbers Kikuchi could put up in this game. You’re welcome for the free fantasy advice.

*Let’s just assume they lose that suspended game against the Oakland A’s that has yet to be completed.

Seattle Mariners (48-71) at Detroit Tigers (35-80)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Lookout Landing
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Yusei Kikuchi (4-8, 5.34 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (6-8, 4.16 ERA)

Game 118 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Gonzales 146.0 17.5 5.9 3.91 3.1
Jackson 34.2 13.6 8.9 8.23 -0.7

No Tigers player has been scrutinized more heavily than Matthew Boyd in 2019. The 28-year-old lefthander has been closely examined from start to start for the better part of four months now, and especially so as his name was floated around as a potential trade candidate in July. We openly wondered if the deadline passing would have an effect on Boyd’s performance earlier this month.

To no surprise, the early results are inconclusive. Boyd was brilliant in a start against the Texas Rangers on August 3, striking out nine in 5 23 innings. He was rocked by the Royals in his last outing, however, lasting just 2 23 innings in a 10-8 loss.

Anyway, I don’t know that I have much to add here. Boyd has continued to rack up strikeouts with abandon, including 10 of them against these Mariners back on July 28. He only allowed three hits, none of which were home runs — those issues reared their ugly head five days ago, which is fun — and looked the part of the Tigers’ ace, including where they gave him no run support in a 3-2 loss.

Key matchup: The Tigers vs. finding a center fielder

We may explore this a bit more in-depth later this week, but with JaCoby Jones now unlikely to play again in 2019, the Tigers need to find themselves a center fielder. Victor Reyes will likely get the lion’s share of playing time there for now, but his defense has been... adventurous at best. Unfortunately, the Tigers don’t have many other options available on their roster right now; Harold Castro and Niko Goodrum have each played a handful of games, but neither is a center fielder by trade.

Then there’s Daz Cameron and Derek Hill, both of whom will be Rule 5 eligible this offseason. Cameron is the more prized prospect at this point, but has hit just .216/.330/.372 in 101 games at Triple-A Toledo this year. Young for the level or not, that line doesn’t exactly say “major league ready,” especially with how ridiculous stat lines are in the high minors this year. Hill went unselected in last year’s Rule 5 draft, but has hit .238/.301/.398 in Double-A this season with 13 home runs. While that isn’t much better than Cameron’s overall line, Hill isn’t playing in the baseball equivalent of a bouncy castle this year.

Neither will happen, most likely. But it’s fun to dream.

Prediction

Kikuchi dominates and the Tigers drop their third in a row.