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Tigers vs. Athletics preview: Frankie Montas stands between the Tigers and a series victory

Matt Manning and the Tigers will be hard pressed to beat Montas and a tough A’s lineup.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

So far the matchup between the Detroit Tigers and the Oakland Athletics has been entertaining and a nice measuring stick for the home team. Both teams have broken out offensively at times, but there’s been plenty of good pitching, with a mix of good defense and key blown plays. The three-game set will be decided this afternoon, and the A’s are rightly going to be favored. Hopefully the Tigers spoil their plans.

Rookie right-hander Matt Manning has come a long way in a short time, but Oakland is going to present a difficult test in this one. After a really shaky start to his 2021 season that saw his velocity and command take concerning steps backward, Manning has righted the ship, but he’s still learning on the job.

He broke out a totally rebuilt slider two months ago, and that pitch has given him another solid option to steal some strikes and at its best, get some whiffs away from right-handed hitters. In recent outings he’s started to show more feel for it, but it’s still not the big time swing and miss pitch Manning needs just yet. The changeup has improved as well, and he’s started mixing more two-seamers into his fastball usage. He’s also really ramped up the aggression at the urges of his coaches, and seen a big leap in his velocity recently. Still, much of this remains a work in progress, and he’s hanging in there mainly by keeping the ball on the ground with his fastball combination.

The Athletics don’t strike out too much. The lineup is no juggernaut, but even beyond a very dangerous heart of their order, they have some veteran hitters who can handle fastballs from anyone. Manning has got to find more punchouts to hang with the better major league lineups, and the A’s could be a real problem in that regard. He’ll need to get ahead in counts using every pitch in his bag, or it could be a parade of foul balls, long at-bats, and eventually damage.

Detroit Tigers (63-71) vs. Oakland Athletics (64-61)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation site: Athletics Nation

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Matt Manning (3-5, 5.46 ERA) vs. RHP Frankie Montas (10-9, 3.66 ERA)

Game 135 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Manning 59.1 4.56 12.7 6.7 1.06 0.7
Montas 150 3.26 26.8 6.7 0.96 3.4

Over the past couple seasons, 28-year-old Frankie Montas has finally broken out after some hard times, included injury, early in his major league career. He’s always been a heavy strike thrower with a big-time fastball, and as he’s gotten healthy and refined his splitter and slider, he’s become a durable and consistent performer for the A’s.

Montas averages a bit over 96 mph on his riding fourseamer, and he’s generally accurate with it too. His splitter and slider both have good movement, and as you can see from his numbers, Montas is getting plenty of whiffs. The short 2020 season saw a little home run trouble for him but that appears a blip on the radar now. The Tigers hitters are going to have their hands full unless Montas really has an off day.

Key Matchup: Reversal of splits

Hitters have posted a meager .169 wOBA against that Montas splitter this season. It is death to all hopes and dreams to chase after it. When he throws this thing, the warm smell of carnitas rises up through the air. Right-handers actually hit him a little more as a result, and if the Tigers are going to give Manning some breathing room in a tough test, someone like Jonathan Schoop, Eric Haase, or Miguel Cabrera probably needs to have a good game. If the Tigers can make it a battle of bullpens, I think they would be happy to take their chances.