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Tigers at Twins preview: Matt Manning looks to stop the road skid

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The big righthander is still a work in progress, but his last two outings has been promising.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Things certainly haven’t gone the way they expected in the Twin Cities. They’re currently four and a half games behind the Detroit Tigers, and stuck in last place in the AL Central. A minor sell off is also underway that can only help the Tigers turn their road trip around after getting swept by the Kansas City Royals.

Nelson Cruz is now a Tampa Bay Ray. Reliever Taylor Rogers is a much sought after trade chip by contenders. None of these things bode well for the Twins over the final two months of the season, but they’re just re-tooling, not rebuilding. However, the long term outlook didn’t get any better for them on Sunday, as news emerged that ace center fielder Byron Buxton declined a contract extension worth $80M, betting that at some point he can stay healthy and earn double that amount. It’s just not a great week to be a Twins fan.

As for our Tigers, the seven game win streak quickly became a memory as they were swept out of Kansas City over the weekend. The Tigers certainly aren’t winning the cash and prizes in 2021 either, but as there are no indications of a busy trade deadline, they appear to be planning on trying to contend in 2022.

So the next two months are going to be all about setting things up for next season. Hopefully Michael Fulmer, Matthew Boyd, and Jake Rogers can all return from injury and put their best foot forward down the stretch. In the meantime, success rides on their three rookie pitchers, whose workloads are being managed, a re-tooled Wily Peralta, and an array of spot starts and bullpen games.

Matt Manning could have a big say in how this all turns out in August/September. As we wrote earlier today in our scouting report on the big righthander, the development of his slider was a crucial piece of the puzzle that was missing, and is suddenly coming together rapidly. The pitch needs refinement, as does Manning’s command of his fastball and changeup, but one of the biggest hurdles has been cleared. Finally, he has a good breaking ball that pairs with his fastball and can get whiffs at the major league level. Now he just has to learn how to use it.

Since breaking out the new slider on July 4th, Manning’s last two starts have been better. He went five innings, allowing two earned runs to these same Twins in Minneapolis back on July 9th, so there’s some familiarity there. On July 21, Manning handled a woeful Texas Rangers lineup without too much trouble, allowing two runs, one earned, in six innings of work.

The Twins remain a respectable offense, despite the struggles this season, but a lack of Nelson Cruz, as well as Buxton and rookie Alex Kirilloff, certainly makes it an easier batting order to navigate. It’ll be interesting to see who wins out now that both sides are familiar with one another.

Detroit Tigers (47-54) at Minnesota Twins (42-58)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation Site: Twinkie Town
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Manning (2-3, 5.79 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Pineda (4-5, 3.93 ERA)

Game 102 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Manning 28 4.8 10.5 8.1 0.96 0.2
Pineda 66.1 4.29 21 5.8 1.49 0.8

While a youngish Tigers lineup won’t be as familiar with Michael Pineda, he’s certainly no stranger for the Tigers veterans. The 32-year-old Pineda has been a staple rotation member around the league since 2011 and had several good seasons with the New York Yankees, before joining the Twins in 2019. He’s yet to face the Tigers this year.

Pineda doesn’t have the velocity anymore, sitting 90-91 mph this season, but his best weapon, the slider, remains intact. In his prime, it was a power fastball/power slider combination, but Pineda is more vulnerable these days as the strikeout rate continues to decline. He still doesn’t issue free passes, so the Tigers are going to have to earn their baserunners, but he’s certainly a pitcher they should be able to get to at some point in the outing.

In his last start, Pineda held the Chicago White Sox to just one run in five innings. That’s impressive, but the four starts prior were abject disasters. He’s not exactly on a roll here.

Key Matchup: Matt Manning vs. himself

The Tigers should be able to score some runs off Pineda. With Cruz traded, Byron Buxton and Alex Kirilloff on the injured list, this is not much of a lineup. If Manning can handle lefties like Max Kepler and Trevor Larnach, and continue to keep the ball in the park, he has a good chance at a successful outing. The Tigers could use a stopper right about now.