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Tigers vs. Red Sox preview: A tough August schedule starts with the AL East leaders

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Wily Peralta will look to rebound from a pair of rough outings.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With just 54 games left in the 2021 season, the Detroit Tigers can already consider it a successful season, certainly the most successful in many years. With three straight months slightly over .500, the slow motion rebuild finally has some real momentum. However, keeping their pace through August is going to be tough.

The Tigers will trade home and away series with both Cleveland and Toronto, welcome in the Los Angeles Angels for a series, and visit St. Louis as well. The Baltimore Orioles may provide some respite, but the real plus for the Tigers is the presence of off days after a long post-All Star break stretch without any breaks. Five off days in August will help AJ Hinch manage the pitching staff and take a little of the strain off the bullpen. But before all that, the Tigers need to handle the Boston Red Sox this week.

With Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal scheduled to pitch the second and third games of the series, they should be able to hold their own against Boston. That leaves tonight’s starter, Wily Peralta, as the weak link in the chain. Peralta really had it going in July before stumbling in his last two outings. Road starts against the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins saw him surrender 11 earned runs in nine total innings. He’ll be sorely tested to turn it around against the third best offense in baseball this season.

As for the Red Sox, they’ve gone 1-5 over the past week, losing the lead in the AL East at the hands of their usurpers, the Tampa Bay Rays. Still, their rotation remains solid, and with the addition of former Twins closer Hansel Robles, their excellent bullpen is better than ever. They also added a big bat, trading for Kyle Schwarber at the deadline as well. The Tigers won’t see Chris Sale starting in this series, but his return from Tommy John surgery is likely to happen next week. In short, this is a very good team, freshly reinforced at the deadline, and ready for the stretch drive. Let’s hope the Tigers can spoil the party.

Detroit Tigers (51-57) vs. Boston Red Sox (63-44)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Over the Monster
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Wily Peralta (3-2, 3.64 ERA) vs. RHP Garrett Richards (6-6, 5.15 ERA)

Game 109 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Peralta 42.0 5.47 14.1 9.4 1.50 0.1
Richards 101.1 5.11 17.3 9.7 1.42 0.3

The Tigers opponent tonight is a pitcher they’ve rarely seen. Only Robbie Grossman, who also has a long history in the AL West, has faced Garrett Richards before. For what it’s worth, Grossman is hitting .333 with a home run in six ABs. A long-time Los Angeles Angels starter with an equally long track record of injury, Richards’ season hasn’t gone the way the Red Sox had hoped. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and the vaunted home run suppression common in his Angels days has evaporated over the past couple seasons since his return from UCL surgery.

Richards still averages a bit over 94 mph with his fourseam fastball, so he hasn’t lost much velocity over the years. However, he’s still throwing 55 percent heaters, so it’s his key pitch. Any losses are magnified. Richards’ slider remains his main secondary pitch, but it isn’t missing bats like it used to. Lefties will see some curveballs, which functions as his offspeed pitch, while his changeup is rarely performed in competition.

When this was a true power arm with an unliftable, Spencer Turnbull-like fourseamer, Richards was a tough day at the office for hitters. But after a brutal month of July, the veteran righthander looks very hittable even for a mediocre offense like the Tigers. There should be plenty of balls in play, and opportunities to put their speed to work. If Peralta can rebound and keep the ball in the park, this is certainly a winnable matchup, but they’ll have a tough time coming back against Boston’s bullpen if their high powered offense beats up on the Tigers’ journeyman starter.

Key Matchup: Baddoo vs. Richards

The back of the Tigers lineup has really struggled in recent weeks and Richards can still overpower lesser hitters without good discipline. However, he does throw plenty of first pitch strikes, and the Tigers do have bats capable of taking advantage. Don’t expect a low power offense to blow him out, but if they can create traffic early, Richards can be thrown off his game, and he tends to struggle early before settling in.

The key to this one is Akil Baddoo, who will presumably be hitting leadoff tonight. The rookie is having a fantastic season and continues to get on base constantly even as his power numbers waned after the hot start. If Baddoo can set the tone, the Tigers should break through early and be able to keep it close even if Peralta has another shaky day on the mound.