The Detroit Tigers are...hot? While that may be an exaggeration, it was nice to see the team take two of three from both the Indians and Cubs after previously dropping nine in a row. The club is still a distant fourth in the AL Central, but at least there has been a little positive momentum. As has been said a thousand times, anything can happen in 2020.
One unique twist from 2020 has been the introduction of seven-inning games for doubleheaders. The Tigers played the first such occurrence against the Reds back in August due to some Covid postponements, but
Friday’s Saturday’s twin bill against Minnesota comes for a difference reason, as the teams independently decided to cancel Thursday’s game as part of ongoing protests against race-based injustice in policing and the criminal justice system.
Then, Mother Nature intervened on Friday.
As a result, the teams will play two seven-inning contests, beginning at 1 p.m. There is a lot going on in our country (and world) right now, and baseball is just a small part of that, but as a Tigers blog we will provide coverage as long as there are games being played.
Minnesota Twins (20-12) at Detroit Tigers (13-16)
Time/Place: 1:10 pm, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Game 1 Probables: RHP Randy Dobnak (5-1, 1.78 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (0-4, 8.48 ERA)
Game 2 Probables: RHP Matt Wisler (0-1, 1.29 ERA) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (0-1, 10.38 ERA)
Game 30 Pitching Matchup
Even though he gave up a couple runs, Matthew Boyd’s last outing was probably his best to date. The struggling starter struck out six Indians and pitched into the sixth inning for the first time in 2020. He still does not look all that impressive and is nowhere near where he was to start 2019, but at least he was serviceable last time out.
Facing the Twins is not a pleasant task, but Boyd will have to find a way to keep the Tigers in the game. His start to the year has shown that he is probably not going to be the team’s ace in the long run, but he still needs to pitch well enough to eat up some innings. Keeping the ball in the park and continuing to produce punchouts is a good way to do that.
The Twins will send Randy Dobnak to the mound opposite Boyd, an unflashy pitcher who has been quite impressive so far this year. The 25-year-old has a 1.78 ERA in six starts which pairs with his 1.59 ERA in 28 1⁄3 innings last season. While he barely strikes anyone out (4.75 K/9) he has done a good job keeping the ball on the ground (62.4 percent) and limiting heavy damage.
His .226 BABIP will not last forever, and his FIP is a bit higher because of his lack of strikeouts, but Dobnak has been a solid member of the Twins rotation in 2020. His last outing was perhaps his first stumble, giving up eight hits and two runs in five innings against the Royals, but even that line is very palatable. The Tigers will hope to chip away like Kansas City did.
Game 31 Pitching Matchup
Anybody expecting Tarik Skubal to come up to Detroit and instantly look like a Cy Young candidate was clearly not living in reality, although it probably is a little surprising that the prized rookie is carrying a double-digit ERA into his third start. Nothing we have seen so far from his first two outings has lowered his ceiling by any means, but it is fair to dig into what has ailed him so far.
For prospects, it is really less about the stat line and more about the process, and it would be fair to say that Skubal looks like he is still figuring it all out. That impression aligns with his surprising call-up well before he was stretched out to start games. However, it was very encouraging to see him notch five strikeouts in his last appearance, recording a few more whiffs and finishing with just three hits and a walk, with a lone run coming via a homer.
Thanks to injuries across the staff, Minnesota is likely to feature a bullpen game in the second contest. Five day ago, seven different pitchers worked against the Royals, with Matt Wisler given the opportunity to start that game. The 27-year-old looks like he deserves to do so again against the Tigers, allowing just one hit and no runs over a pair of two-inning starts this season.
Overall, Wisler has a stellar 1.29 ERA and 1.00 WHIP and is extremely effective as a reliever. He may not be overpowering with just a 92.4 mph fastball, but he has been extremely effective with his slider, a pitch he throws almost 80 percent of the time. Wisler has allowed just one barrel in 14 frames this season, and is a strong way to start the parade of bullpen arms.
Key matchup: Tarik Skubal vs. pitch count
The biggest challenge for Skubal so far has been efficiency. It took him 52 pitches to get through two innings in his first start and 69 pitches to go 2 ⅓ innings in his second outing. The Tigers are going to be extremely careful with such a valuable asset, so if he continues to labor through the beginning of games he will not get many chances to pitch many innings.
Skubal’s five strikeouts last time out were encouraging, and the key will be for him to keep finding ways to put hitters away. Long at bats can be killer, so working on finishing off two-strike counts will be something to watch. It feels like he will still be limited for his next few outings, but it would be great to see an efficient inning or two against the Twins.