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Tigers at Yankees Preview: Struggling Tigers take on one of league’s best pitcher; probably won’t go well

The Toothless Tigers take on Gerrit Cole, who is very good at pitching, and the Yankees on Friday night in the Bronx.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Tigers travel to the East Coast on Friday to kick off a three-game set against the New York Yankees. Currently under .500 and tied for last place in the American League East, the Yankees have not gotten off to the start they anticipated, but taking on the Tigers could be just what they need to jumpstart their season. Detroit currently holds the worst record in baseball and have lost 12 of their last 14 games.

Even by the standards the team has set over the last few years, this has been a disappointing April for the Tigers. Depending on who you ask, the Tigers are somewhere between three-to-five years into their rebuild—whatever that even means until the building part really starts—but the light that’s supposed to be at the end of this long and winding tunnel has yet to show itself. Future success depends on the core group prospects living up to their potential. The man that the Tigers will send to the mound on Friday night is certainly front and center in that group.

Tarik Skubal will have a battle on his hands when he faces off against one of the best pitchers the game has to offer in Gerrit Cole. By now we all know what the offense of the Tigers is (in)capable of, and that issue only compounds when you put them up against a pitcher of Cole’s caliber. Skubal has yet to show the league the best of arsenal in 2021, and in order to come away with a win in this one, he’s going to have to on Friday.

Detroit Tigers (8-18) at New York Yankees (11-14)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (0-3, 5.21 ERA) vs. RHP Gerrit Cole (3-1, 1.71 ERA)

Game 56 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mize 57.2 20.1 8.5 4.43 0.6
Keuchel 59.2 12.0 7.2 4.87 0.2

Gerrit Cole starred on A.J. Hinch’s Astros for two seasons, nearly winning the 2019 AL Cy Young before heading to the Bronx on a 9-year, $324 million deal. He had a pretty good 2020 with a 2.84 ERA but a 3.89 FIP, but allowed a career high 18.7 % home run to fly ball rate. This season Cole is proving nearly impossible to hit. He’s averaging 97 MPH on his fastball, striking out an absurd amount of hitters, and is allowing a career-low 3.1% HR/FB rate. From the Tigers standpoint, this is a terrifying matchup.

The Tigers have the highest team strikeout rate in Major League Baseball right now at 29.6%. They also have a league-worst 74 wRC+. They also, also sit dead last in OBP at .260. This is basically an educated way of saying that the Tigers offense is complete dumpster fire without just coming out and saying they’re a complete dumpster fire. But yes, to put it bluntly they’re a complete dumpster fire. They are having trouble scoring on anyone, let alone one of the three best pitchers the American League has to offer.

Given how his season has transpired, that prospect shine that Tarik Skubal has has been glossed over with a veneer of soot and grime. The velocity on his four-seam is down slightly, about one MPH from last year, but the spin rate is down from 2,422 rpm to 2,214 rpm, costing him the typically elite movement that helped make him an excellent pitching prospect. Put simply, the young man has struggled to find his fastball, which is the pitch that put him on the map. The good news is that the reasoning behind it doesn’t seem to be injury, or else the organization wouldn’t be allowing him to pitch through it... right? Whatever it is, given the state of the Tigers, he will most likely get every opportunity to pitch through it at the major league level.

“Pitching through it” is a tough thing to do against the New York Yankees, however. While their vaunted offense hasn’t quite lived up to expectations yet, they still have a core that should equate to lots of offense. Their plethora of power hitters in Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Aaron Judge — when he’s on the field — is a scary middle of the lineup when they’re all performing, and then let’s not forget the AL MVP runner-up in DJ LeMahieu, who is one of the best table setters in baseball. The Yankees will need to get things moving fast if they want to keep past in a loaded AL East, and so far it seems like the Tigers have been a great team to get back on track against.

Key matchup: Tarik Skubal vs. The Earl Weaver Specials

We’re not going to pretend the Tigers are suddenly going to erupt offensively, so their only hope in this one is to keep the game within reach and hope to pull it out late. To do so, they’re going to need Skubal to keep the ball in the park. A three home run barrage from the Clevelandeers back on April 10th aside, Skubal hasn’t really been too victimized by hard contact. It’s been the diminished whiff rate on his heater, and too many walks that have made for a rough start to his 2021 season. The Yankees have plenty of ways to score here, but if Skubal can stay aggressive and trust his stuff, he can at least make them earn their runs. If he’s giving up walks and struggling through long at-bats with runners on base? Someone like Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton is going to cash in a jackpot.