The 2021 regular season enters the home stretch today, and whatever comes the rest of the way, it’s been a very successful year for the Detroit Tigers. Four consecutive months of the best baseball the organization has produced in at least a half decade has us all feeling a lot more optimistic about the club’s future. So does the ongoing progress of Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.
An interesting part of this process, is that many of us have rapidly become accustomed to a much better brand of baseball this year. Over the past couple weeks, the news has centered around Miguel Cabrera’s chase for 500 home runs, the extension to Jonathan Schoop, and, on Tuesday, the reshaping of the front office. On the field, the Tigers have continued to be in most games, but have seen the offensive production fading, a reminder that, no matter what the Tigers do about shortstop, their future hopes rest heavily on their two top prospects.
Now winners of four of their last ten after losing to Minnesota on Monday, and Oakland on Tuesday, it’s interesting to consider how much the team’s win-loss record over the final 29 games matters. There are plenty of good reasons for the Tigers to hang in there, despite having two series against both the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays remaining on the schedule.
The return of players like Akil Baddoo, Matthew Boyd, Derek Hill, Eric Haase, and Jose Ureña from varying length stints on the injured list should bode well for them. As players start to gas out from the long grind of the season, getting an infusion of rested talent could give the Tigers an edge the rest of the way. As long as the team doesn’t fall apart down the stretch, there isn’t much that is going to change overall opinions about the organization, but it would still be nice to see them go on another run and spoil the party for a few teams.
On Wednesday, that task will go to Wily Peralta. We’ve talked an awful lot about the work of pitching coach Chris Fetter, but as in so many cases, it’s hard not to note the improvement he and Juan Nieves have wrought throughout the pitching staff when Peralta’s name comes up. That Peralta, who hadn’t been an effective major league pitcher since 2016, is sitting here 12 starts into his Tigers run with a 3.63 ERA, is pretty remarkable. In late July, back-to-back bad starts had this renaissance looking like a mirage, but instead Peralta has come back with four decent outings in a row.
At his best, Peralta is locating his fastballs well enough to stay ahead of hitters or get ground balls. That opens some space for him to throw heavy doses of his more mercurial splitter for whiffs and weak contact around the edges. He’s going to be tested by an Oakland Athletics lineup that has good plate discipline and plenty of power. If Peralta can’t spot the sinker down in the zone and get strike calls, he’s liable to have a rough time with a lineup that won’t chase the splitter when they’re ahead in the count. Either way, a general lack of strikeouts means he’s going to need plenty of grounders and some batted ball luck to keep the A’s in check.
Detroit Tigers (62-71) vs. Oakland Athletics (64-60)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Athletics Nation
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Wily Peralta (3-3, 3.63 ERA) vs. RHP James Kaprielian (7-4, 3.65 ERA)
Game 134 Pitching Matchup
James Kaprielian is a former New York Yankees’ first round draft pick who took a while to find his way to the major leagues. Drafted in 2015, Kaprielian went down for UCL surgery in 2017, and was then dealt to the Oakland Athletics later that year in the deal that sent Sonny Gray to New York. Always looked at as an interesting fringe prospect because of his good slider-changeup combo, with the Athletics, Kaprielian has found a little more life on his fastball and improved his command of all three pitches. He’s still finding his way, and will make just his 20th major league start against the Tigers, but he’s having a solid rookie campaign.
Kaprielian is going to like pitching in Comerica Park. Over 47 percent of balls in play are hit in the air against him, particularly off his tailing fourseam fastball. It’s not an especially good pitch if you look under the hood. He has a low spin rate near 2000 rpms and gets below average vertical movement. Somehow, the pitch is shifty enough that Kaprielian can pitch heavily up in the zone with it and get tons of routine fly balls. He has a weakness for giving up the long balls as a result, but he can also frustrate teams by not allowing much traffic, collecting a lot of easy outs, and cruising through some quick innings. If he’s able to keep the Tigers in the middle of the field, it’s liable to be another long day for the offense.
Pitching Matchup: Tigers needs to find that thump
Overall the Tigers lineup has been lacking in home run power, and run scoring generally, considering their record. They’ve gotten a lot out of their good days, but over the past week those days have dried up. They’ve scored more than four runs just once in the past 10 games. With Peralta bound for a relatively short outing against a patient A’s lineup, the Tigers are going to need to put a few balls in the seats to win. Kaprielian is vulnerable there. Just hope they can get one with runners on base.