After a decidedly mixed bag of a road trip out west of the Mississippi, the Tigers return home to the Motor City in search of consistency. The offense looked like a force to be reckoned with against the Houston Astros, tallying 20 runs over three games. Against the Oakland Athletics though, they mustered only six runs in four games. Who exactly is this Tigers team? Is this a team that is going to frustrate the their opponent night in and night out, or is this a team that is going to sleep walk through the vast majority of the season? After 16 games, the jury is still out.
Tuesday evening the Tigers start a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a little interleague action could be just what the doctor ordered. While Pittsburgh is a game up on the Tigers in terms of record, this is one of the few teams that, at least on paper, the Tigers should be beating. The Pirates have virtually no household names, with the only exception maybe being Gregory Polanco, who hasn’t produced a positive fWAR since 2018. At third base, Colin Moran is off to a stellar start and looking to build on a 2020 where he was worth 113 wRC+. Ke’Bryan Hayes is absolutely a break out candidate for this season, but is still on the injured list due to a wrist issue.
Overall, the Pirates have been gutted by money-saving trades over the last few years which puts their roster at the bottom of the talent spectrum and their payroll at a mere $46 million, just a few more million than what Trevor Bauer alone will be paid this season. Still, the Pirates have a knack for putting a scrappy team that doesn’t make the big mistakes on the field. They’re rarely the pushover you might expect.
Detroit Tigers (6-10) at Pittsburgh Pirates (7-9)
Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (1-0, 3.00 ERA) vs LHP Tyler Anderson (1-2, 4.02 ERA)
Game 17 Pitching Matchup
I’m not trying to tempt fate here, but Michael Fulmer looks BACK. His fastball velocity? UP. His slider usage? UP. His strikeout rate? UP. His walk rate? DOWN. This is a dude who has most definitely had to take the long road back from multiple injuries, but that path finally looks like it’s leading in the right direction. Ever since he rightfully earned American League Rookie of the Year in 2016 over Gary Sanchez — we are obligated to bring up Gary Sanchez losing this award every time we talk about Fulmer — his career has been rocky. To see him having success in early 2021 obviously makes me happy as a fan, but it makes me very happy for him. Let’s hope he keeps it up.
Fulmer started the season in the bullpen and has since been elevated to the rotation to take the place of the injured Julio Teheran. He’s not fully stretched out yet, but managed to throw five innings against the Astros in his first start last week. It wasn’t until that fifth inning that he started to run out of gas, allowing a home run around the 80-pitch mark. Getting back into starter shape is a tall task, but the Pirates feature a lot less fire power than the Astros, so this is a team that Fulmer might be able to go a little deeper in the game against.
Tyler Anderson is on the bump for the Pirates, and up until writing this, I had never heard of him. However, after quickly perusing his Baseball Savant page, I can confidently say that he is the type of pitcher that the Tigers struggle against. Anderson is a left handed pitcher who sits around 90 mph with his fastball, but gets the most out of his cutter, which hitters are currently only hitting to a tune of a .248 wOBA in 2021. Considering that Anderson has doubled his cutter usage this season, that seems to bode well for his chances this year. Anderson is the type of pitcher who I will watch and get frustrated with because he’ll carve up the Tigers without throwing a single pitch above 93 mph. A classic Bruce Chen performance, if you will.
The only active hitter on the Tigers who has seen Anderson is Jonathan Schoop, who has a hit in two at bats. Other than that, this is uncharted territory for the team. As previously mentioned, the last week has been a tale of two offenses. Sadly, both Akil Baddoo and Wilson Ramos have cooled off considerably after hot starts, and they’ve been the only two guys on the team who were hitting for any power. Robbie Grossman and Jeimer Candelario remain steady at the top of the batting order, and Niko Goodrum has been quite productive against lefties as well, but without much production behind them, the team may continue to find runs hard to come by. However, with a soft tossing lefty on the mound, it might be a solid night to see if JaCoby Jones or Renato Nuñez can get on track.
Key Matchup: Tigers bullpen vs. any hitter with a pulse
Death, taxes, and the Tigers bullpen resembling a flaming pile of tires. If it weren’t so darn depressing it would almost comforting to know that over the last 10 years of baseball, with all the ups and downs that the Tigers have had, the bullpen has been consistently bad. Right now, the Tigers have Gregory Soto for the highest leverage situations, and then A.J. Hinch has had to piece the rest together with the likes of Buck Farmer, Jose Cisnero, and Bryan Garcia, all of whom have been erratic to start the year. Daniel Norris and Derek Holland have been batting practice pitchers for the most part, and then Joe Jimenez is in the same boat except the machine is just unplugged altogether. Am I forgetting anyone? Oh yeah, Tyler Alexander, who the team has also pretty much forgotten about. Save us, Alex Lange.
Anyway... we know that Fulmer most likely won’t be stretched out enough to go deep into the game on Tuesday night. That means we’re looking at at least a few innings from the bullpen. How Hinch pieces the latter innings together will be interesting. Cisnero got out of a big situation on Sunday, and Garcia looked great against Houston. But each has had their low moments this season already too. The Pirates don’t have a good offense, so this game will eventually become a stoppable force vs. a movable object type of match up. Who will win? Not the fans, that’s for sure.