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Tigers vs. Astros preview: This four game set will test the Tigers mettle

Much like facing the Chicago White Sox, the Astros are a good measure of how good the Tigers really are now.

Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers are a very different team than the one that swept the Houston Astros back in mid-April. That series was a brief sign of life in an otherwise disastrous opening month of the season. However, the Tigers have really turned it around since then, going 24-30 since the start of May, and 14-14 since May 24th.

The roster has gone through a lot of changes since we last saw the Houstonians. The development of Gregory Soto, Jose Cisnero, and Michael Fulmer into a quality backend of the bullpen has made a major difference. So has the progress of Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal into more consistently successful starting pitchers. The ongoing success of Akil Baddoo has bolstered the lineup significantly, as has better work of late from Willi Castro, and particularly the white hot Jonathan Schoop. Even more than any individual piece, the Tigers have played much scrappier brand of team baseball, rarely packing up shop early even in games they’re losing handily.

However, the Astros are still the Astros, and with the starting rotation in disarray without Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd, this is going to be a stern test of just how good the Detroit Tigers are at this point.

One key that would really help them maintain this success, would be the resurgence of Jose Ureña as a solid, effective starting pitcher. After a really good run in April, and then a bout of forearm tightness Ureña ascribed to throwing a lot of sliders, he’s been far less effective over his last six starts. The reduced effectiveness of his slider is one reason, but more than anything Ureña has failed to follow the mantra of A.J. Hinch and Chris Fetter to win the battle to two strikes. Ureña has struggled to get ahead of hitters and pick up quick outs, and instead his walk rate has climbed back to miserable lows of his 2020 campaign. If things are going to change, Ureña is going to have to take his chances and pound the zone much more consistently early in counts. Against a team like the Astros, that is a dangerous recipe, particularly when you don’t have much working for you beyond fastballs.

Detroit Tigers (32-42) vs. Houston Astros (46-28)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Crawfish Boxes
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jose Ureña (2-7, 5.79 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Garcia (5-4, 2.82 ERA)

Game 75 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Ureña 65.1 4.77 13.9 10.2 0.96 0.5
Garcia 70.1 3.61 28.1 7.7 1.15 1.3

The Tigers have their work cut out for them with Luis Garcia on the mound. The 24-year-old’s 2020 debut wasn’t anything to write home about, but he’s found the strikeout touch and improved command this season to become one of the better young starters in the American League.

Garcia throws a somewhat pedestrian riding fastball at 93-94 mph, mixing in both a slider at 79-80 mph, and cutter at 86 mph. He’ll bury the slider on you, while bending cutters off the outside edge to righthanders or jamming lefties. He gets quite a bit of chase on those two offerings in particular. He’ll throw his changeup to lefties, but rarely in the zone. Both breaking balls draw plenty of whiffs, and while Garcia has a little vulnerability to home runs, he can also collect a lot of quick outs in the air. Following the Astros protocol of riding fastballs paired with high spin breakers, he’s pretty well suited to dominate in Comerica Park.

Key Matchup: Tigers defense vs. Ureña’s pitch to contact stylings

This is a pretty major mismatch considering how Ureña has pitched of late. Garcia isn’t exactly terrifying as an opponent, but he’s good and fully capable of dominating the Tigers if they aren’t careful. The key though, if the Tigers are going to win this one, is keeping the Astros’ league-leading offense in check by playing rock solid defense. Ureña can hopefully keep their hitters in the park and deal with the likely traffic on the basepaths, but the Tigers cannot give these guys extra outs considering the amount of contact expected. If they play a clean game, they should be able to hang in there and let the bullpens decide the issue, but they’re really going to have to grind out good at-bats against Garcia to generate traffic and drive his pitch count up. If he’s still in the game in the seventh inning, the chances of a Tigers win are going to be slim.