This is going to take a little getting used to. Our default setting for virtually every game preview since 2017 has been as the lowly underdog. However, the Detroit Tigers are not going to sneak up on anyone at this point. They currently hold third place in the AL Central, two and a half games up on the fourth place Kansas City Royals. While the second place Cleveland Indians are still five and a half games ahead, the last two months have served notice that A.J. Hinch’s Tigers are no longer among the bottom feeders, good for a few cheap wins. The hunted have become the hunters, and the Rangers look a bit like prey at this point.
How long this will last is anyone’s guess. The Tigers have won 30 of their last 58 games dating back to May 1, but with the trade deadline less than four weeks away, and with workload restrictions cutting into their ability to use Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal full time, changes may be in the offing that will make it very difficult to hold something like a .500 pace the rest of the way. Obviously plenty of other teams have similar issues to contend with over the remaining three months of the season.
As good as the current two month stretch of baseball has been for the psyche of Tigers’ fans, there are still plenty of serious question marks with this team. Will they make any notable deals this month? Will Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd return healthy and bolster a rotation that currently consists of three young pitchers finding their way and two spots that are just toss-ups from week to week? Can the offensive production of players like Akil Baddoo and Eric Haase hold up?
For now, the challenges ahead are well represented by tonight’s starting pitcher, RHP Wily Peralta as the Tigers visit the Texas Rangers for the first time this year. Peralta hadn’t started a major league game since 2017 before the Tigers called him up from Toledo two weeks ago. The 32-year-old journeyman has done a solid job, putting up a 3.21 ERA across three starts, but his peripherals suggest that this is largely a house of cards.
Peralta just doesn’t generate enough whiffs, and while he’s kept his tradition of high walk rates under control so far, living on weak contact alone is a dangerous game. He holds a ground ball rate over 50 percent, which is necessary for this approach, but he’s also gotten a high percentage of pop-ups on contact in the air. If he can take it just a little farther, turning more of that weak contact into whiffs, he may remain pretty effective, but there are a lot more warning signs that the contact is more likely to turn the other way, with balls starting to find the grass and leave the yard with greater regularity.
So far, A.J. Hinch has tried to get Peralta through lineups two times, with a quick hook ready that second time through the order. However, with the heavy bullpen usage over the weekend, the Tigers are not in great shape to get five or six innings from the pen tonight. The Tigers have shown a recent pattern of getting blown out one game per series, and yet winning the series anyway. That may not satisfy the Pythag, but if Peralta can just save the pen and get the Tigers through five innings with a realistic chance to win the game, we’ll take it.
Detroit Tigers (38-46) at Texas Rangers (33-51)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m. ET, Globe Life Field
SB Nation site: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Wily Peralta (1-1, 3.21 ERA) vs. LHP Kolby Allard (2-4, 3.46 ERA)
Game 85 Pitching Matchup
23-year-old Kolby Allard is off to a very nice start this season. Defying the crafty lefty stereotypes, he’s not really a ground ball pitcher. Instead, Allard’s success this season has been dependent on throwing a lot of strikes and refusing to issue free passes, while mixing up his repertoire well enough to avoid getting bombed for home runs.
Allard’s fourseamer only sits in the low-90’s, but he has some deception to help the pitch stay off opposing hitters’ barrels. That combined with the improved command this season has helped him pound the edges and keep hitters off balance, and there’s enough ride to miss some bats as long as he doesn’t leak the heater over the plate too much.
Allard backs the fastballs with a cutter at 86-87 mph. Against righthanders he’ll use that pitch in on their hands or even on the outer edge, moving the fourseamer just off the plate while the cutters start just outside and move in to bite that edge of the zone. Against lefties, it’s more standard, with the cutter shaped a bit more like a slider with bat missing depth down and away. A curveball and changeup are more limited parts of his repertoire, but he will mix them both in when needed to steal strikes or try to fish for weak contact down in the zone.
Key Matchup: Lefty mashers to the main stage
For the first two months of the season, the Tigers really struggled with left handed pitching. The change is their fortunes against the southpaws can be tied to Jonathan Schoop finally getting red hot, and the fact that the Tigers two catchers, Eric Haase and Jake Rogers, have emerged, hitting lefties for good power. Presumably we’ll see Rogers behind the plate tonight, trying to help Wily Peralta nibble strikes around the edges of the zone, with Haase in left field as Hinch looks to maximize the damage his lineup can do against Allard. If those three hitters can produce some offense tonight, the Tigers chances of winning are solid, despite the pitching matchup favoring Texas.