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Tigers vs. Brewers Preview: Detroit looks to get back over the .500 mark

After starting the season 9-5, the Tigers took a steep fall before working themselves back into the playoff hunt.

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

It seems a bit early to be talking about the playoff chase with the Tigers playing just over half of their scheduled games, but the calendar has already turned to the final month of the season. With an expanded playoff bracket anything is possible, and Detroit has to feel fairly confident after winning seven of its past nine games.

Accordingly, the team did not turn into big sellers at Monday’s trade deadline, making just one move. Cameron Maybin departs via trade for the third time in his career, and though he was a regular contributor when healthy, his loss does not materially impact the trajectory of this team. If the Tigers thought they were in the playoff hunt before, then moving Maybin should not change that.

Detroit will look to make it four straight series wins with a short set in Milwaukee. The Brewers have played just below .500 for most of the year and represent a winnable matchup. The Tigers will turn to Michael Fulmer on Tuesday, who has made five outings so far, each lasting between 2 23 and three innings. Given how he has pitched, his longevity is unlikely to change.

Everything has been going poorly for the former Rookie of the Year. His strikeouts remain low (under 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings), the walks are way up (4.4 walks per nine), and his six home runs allowed in 14 13 innings are alarming. There really is no secret as to why: his fastball is down to 93.7 miles per hour and he has no command. As a result, hitters are simply teeing off with a hard hit rate of 48 percent.

It is disappointing to see what has happened to him, but unfortunately Fulmer is far from the first pitcher to be derailed by injury. The Tigers seem willing to let him try to work out some of the kinks, but nothing he has shown thus far has given any reason for encouragement.

Milwaukee Brewers (16-18) at Detroit Tigers (16-16)

Time/Place: 7:40 pm, Miller Park
SB Nation site: Brew Crew Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 8.79 ERA) vs. RHP Adrian Houser (1-3, 4.36 ERA)

Game 33 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Fulmer 14.1 15.9 10.1 8.71 -0.4
Houser 33.0 17.5 8.0 5.22 0.2

Adrian Houser finally got a full major league season in 2019 and he did not disappoint. The 27-year-old pitched 111 13 innings between the rotation and the bullpen and ended with a solid 3.72 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. This landed him in the Brewers rotation to start 2020 with hopes of an encore performance.

The results so far have been disappointing. After just one run allowed in his first two starts (12 total innings), Houser has given up at least three runs in each of his last four appearances, with his latest outing lasting just four innings with four runs and two homers allowed. The overall line may not be a disaster, but it definitely is a step back from last year.

Houser is just not missing as many bats this season, with his strikeout rate falling from 9.46 strikeouts per nine innings to 6.55. While walks are steady and homers are just slightly up, hitters seem just a little more able to square him up, as evidenced by a higher barrel rate and better contact numbers. Even over the recent hot stretch, the Tigers offense has been just about league-average. Houser will hope to get back to his strikeout ways against a team that is very willing to swing the bat.

Key matchup: Gregory Soto vs. the closer role

No pitcher was more impressive to start the year than Gregory Soto, as the flamethrower allowed only four hits and no runs over his first 10 13 innings with 14 strikeouts. That was followed by two horrendous outings that ruined his dazzling ratios, but his last six outings have all been scoreless.

As a result, Ron Gardenhire has booted Joe Jimenez out of the closer role and apparently would like to make the straight swap for Soto. Whether or not (emphasis on not) this is the best way to deploy one’s relievers, this is a big test for Soto. He has converted his first two save opportunities, but closers are always fragile so this will be something to watch.