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Tigers vs. Twins Preview: Matthew Boyd can lead Detroit to a second series win

But can the Tigers offense get to a top-shelf pitcher in Kenta Maeda?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Day three of Operation: Stop Nelson Cruz is a go. Sure, day one may have been a complete failure, but some Akil Baddoo magic made day two of the operation a success. It’s a difficult operation, should you choose to accept it.

The Twins in general are tough, favored by many to win the AL Central and extend their two year reign over the division. Between them and the Chicago White Sox, the Tigers know who they’ll be measuring themselves against as they try to rebuild into a winner once again.

Today, the Tigers look to go 2-for-2 in series wins as they wrap up this first week of the season. And standing in their way is Detroit’s biggest challenge since Opening Day, Twins ace Kenta Maeda. To win today, manager A.J. Hinch will roll out the left-handers in his lineup, and they’ll have to get to Kenta Maeda a little more than expected. To give them that fighting chance, Matthew Boyd must keep the ball inside the park against Cruz and his homer-happy teammates.

Detroit Tigers (3-2) vs. Minnesota Twins (3-2)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. EDT, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Twinkie Town
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs RHP Kenta Maeda (0-0, 2.08 ERA)

Game 6 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 5.2 8.3 16.7 4.67 0.1
Maeda 4.1 21.7 8.7 3.03 0.1

While the Tigers will be content to have Matthew Boyd on the mound as their starting pitcher in today’s game, Kenta Maeda has pitched on another level from Boyd since joining the Twins. As you can see in the chart above, Boyd went deeper into his Opening Day start than Maeda did, but their 2020 performances were night and day:

Game 6 Pitching Matchup (2020 Stats)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 60.1 22.1 8.1 5.78 0.1
Maeda 66.2 32.3 4 3 2.1

Maeda finished second in AL Cy Young voting in 2020 behind unanimous winner Shane Bieber, but if Detroit was able to get to Bieber early in the game on Opening Day, perhaps they can do the same again facing Maeda today. Despite his overall heroics in 2020, Maeda posted a 4.50 ERA in three starts against Detroit last season. Of course, that took some timely hitting from the Tigers to pull off, as Maeda also struck out 12.5 Tigers hitters per nine innings and posted a 0.72 WHIP against them as well.

Since the Twins traded for Maeda last offseason, he’s adjusted his pitch mix and become even tougher than he was in his days with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maeda now uses particularly heavy doses of his outstanding slider, throwing it 40 percent of the time in 2020. He’ll throw fourseam fastballs and sinkers averaging 92 mph around 30 percent of the time, and his changeup is a tough splitter that averages 86 mph. Maeda can really shape his slider, and the fact that he pitches off the breaking ball with excellent command makes him extremely tough to deal with. The whiff happy Tigers are going to have their hands full, but if it makes you feel better, 11 other teams have a worse strikeout rate at this point.

Matthew Boyd, meanwhile, pitched the best baseball of his abysmal 2020 campaign against the Twins, putting together two consecutive 6 IP, 2 ER starts to close August and open September (not so fun fact: those starts lowered his season ERA from 8.48 to 6.64 at the time!). Over his career, Boyd has pitched 21 starts against Minnesota, posting a 4.60 ERA and a very respectable 1.10 WHIP over those outings.

Key Matchup: Tigers bats the third time through the order vs. Kenta Maeda

In 2020, Kenta Maeda was a pitching machine early in games. He went five innings in all 11 starts (disclaimer: he has already failed to do this in 2021, going 4.1 innings in his first outing), and posted a 2.45 ERA or better in every one of those first five innings across all his starts. His sixth and seventh inning ERAs, meanwhile, skyrocketed to a 6.75 ERA each, leading Maeda to only pitch in the seventh inning of four of his 11 starts last season.

While it would be nice for the Tigers to replicate a couple of their early-season performances and jump out to a two or three run lead in the first couple of innings, it is fairly unlikely that they will do so against a pitcher of Maeda’s caliber. If that is the case, Detroit’s hitters would be wise to take a patient approach during their early at-bats to avoid early at-bat outs. By familiarizing themselves with Maeda’s arsenal on the fly, they could possibly set themselves up for some later-inning fireworks. From there, it’s on Matthew Boyd to keep Detroit in the game.