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Detroit Tigers at Cincinnati Reds Preview: Welcome back, baseball!

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The Tigers open the 2020 season with an interleague series in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Reds v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

After nearly 10 months without baseball, the regular season is now underway. The Detroit Tigers have had an eventful offseason nonetheless, highlighted by the first-overall selection of Spencer Torkelson. The full 2020 season was likely to be another struggle for the Tigers, but this 60-game sprint could allow for some surprises compared to a traditional year.

While Detroit still faces long odds for postseason play, anything could happen this summer. At the very least, the organization will have a chance to debut a tantalizing prospect or two, and things should develop much quicker in a condensed season. The most likely outcome is yet another high draft pick, but the journey should be a little more tolerable over just 60 games.

One of the team’s bright spots is Matthew Boyd, who gets the ball to open the season for the first time. The 29-year-old was the Tigers’ best starter in 2019 and had a career year by most accounts — 3.3 fWAR, 11.6 K/9, 4.32 FIP — but a trying second half saw his ERA go from 3.87 before the break to 5.51 over the latter portion. Though he faded down the stretch and had some issues with homers, Boyd looked the part as a legitimate starter.

The southpaw was very impressive to start last season, putting up a 2.85 ERA and 2.87 FIP in his first 12 starts. If he could begin this year in a similar fashion, his name will again be tossed around at the trade deadline. Of course, there are plenty of unknowns coming out of this strange offseason, so just seeing him come out of the gates with a strong outing is the primary goal right now.

Detroit Tigers (0-0) at Cincinnati Reds (0-0)

Time/Place: 6:10 pm, Great American Ball Park
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: LHP Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.56 ERA) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (11-8, 2.87 ERA)

Game 1 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 185.1 30.2 6.3 4.32 3.3
Gray 175.1 28.9 9.6 3.42 4.4

The 2020 season will see a healthy amount of interleague play, and that starts right away for the Tigers as they visit the Cincinnati Reds. After a subpar 2019, the Reds are now favorites to claim the NL Central and improved with additions such as Nick Castellanos, Mike Moustakas, and Shogo Akiyama over the offseason.

Taking the mound for the home team is Sonny Gray, who experienced a huge bounce back year after being traded from the Yankees. The 2019 All-Star ended the season seventh among qualified starters with a 2.87 ERA, and his 10.5 K/9 was easily the best in his career. After a season and a half chafing under ineffective Yankees coaching, Gray was a new man in Cincinnati, an organization on the rise in terms of its pitcher development. The Reds rotation is no joke, featuring arms like Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer, so it says something that Gray gets the first start of the season.

Unlike Boyd, Gray got better as the season went on. He allowed just three total earned runs in over 36 August innings, and his second half ERA sat at a measly 2.12. The veteran earned the right to take the mound in Game 1 for the Reds and will be a tall task for a Tigers lineup that ranked dead last in wRC+ last season.

Key matchup: Miguel Cabrera vs. 2020

The annual stories about Miguel Cabrera being in The Best Shape of His Life were widely available during Spring and Summer Training, but writers swear it is actually true this time. The signing of C.J. Cron should keep the slugger in the DH role, and a shortened season should be a little more manageable for staying fresh. If he can begin the year hot, or even just decent, Cabrera could put up some numbers that look more like his former self, and turn a thin offensive unit into a respectable one.