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Tigers vs. Cubs Preview: Detroit turns to Spencer Turnbull to even series

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Turnbull looks to right the ship after a pair of tough outings.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

As exciting as it is to have Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal up in the Tigers rotation, it does mean that an already-taxed Detroit bullpen is likely going to keep being called upon over the remainder of the season. Regardless of whether it is a slumping veteran or an unseasoned rookie taking the mound, most games have resulted in the Tigers’ starter being pulled far too early.

The one exception to this scenario appeared to be Spencer Turnbull, last season’s surprise breakout. The big righthander started 2020 just how he began the prior year, averaging six innings over his first three starts with a 2.00 ERA and 18 total strikeouts. However, his next two outings were quite the opposite, both featuring more walks than strikeouts, as Turnbull yielded three runs over 4 ⅔ innings against the Indians and then lasted just two innings against the White Sox while again surrendering three runs.

This start feels like a big moment for the 27-year-old, as he must find a way to figure it out against the Cubs. There is no way he will continue to average 10.80 walks per nine innings as he has over his past two starts, but if his command does not improve it is hard to see how he can be effective, given that he is not an elite strikeout pitcher.

With the struggles of Matthew Boyd, the Tigers really need Turnbull to be a consistent part of the rotation. Two bad starts in a row are not enough to start panicking, but if the trend continues it is fair to start having doubts about a pitcher without a long track record of success. The good news is that he continues to generate tons of ground balls (52.2 percent) and limit hard contact (35.3 percent), which has resulted in no home runs yet. This will not last forever, but at least he has not experienced a blowup yet, unlike Boyd and the rest of the staff.

Chicago Cubs (18-10) at Detroit Tigers (11-16)

Time/Place: 7:10 pm, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Bleed Cubbie Blue
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: RHP Tyler Chatwood (2-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 3.65 ERA)

Game 28 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Chatwood 15.0 35.4 6.2 2.61 0.5
Turnbull 24.2 19.8 14.1 3.50 0.6

Tyler Chatwood was placed on the injured list earlier this month with back tightness, but is ready to return to face the Tigers. He had two very good starts to open the year, giving up one run in six innings against the Brewers, then pitching 6 ⅔ scoreless frames against the Pirates. This looked like a continuation of a decent 2019 which saw him post a 3.76 ERA, his best mark since 2013.

While it is unclear if his injury was in effect during his third outing, whatever happened that day was forgettable for Chatwood. He faced 18 Royals in just 2 ⅓ innings, allowing 11 to reach base and eight to score. He did have a couple blowups last season, but none were quite this bad. Coming back from the injured list, the Tigers will have to hope that he is not yet ready to find his early-season groove.

If healthy, odds are the real Chatwood is the pitcher who generated tons of swings-and-misses his first two starts and not the one who was hammered his third time out. The Tigers offense has its nights, but has looked relatively tame for most of 2020. This seems like a chance for him to get back on the right path, unfortunately.

Key matchup: Miguel Cabrera vs. staying relevant

Expectations are obviously diminished for Miguel Cabrera — and they will only continue to fall each year until his contract expires — but it was encouraging to seem him at least somewhat productive to start the season. Over the first couple weeks he may have only been hitting .204, but his four home runs were a positive sight, and his 108 wRC+ was extremely workable.

Unfortunately, it has been a struggle since then. From August 11 onward he has been downright terrible, batting well under .200 with no power at all. On the positive side, he is not hurt and it could just be a bad couple weeks. However, his lack of barrels and recent history imply that this stretch of play is much closer to reality that we might want to admit.