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Seeing Red (Sox): The Tigers welcome Boston to town for the first night game of the year

The Tigers are going through their laundry drawer to start the season as the Red Sox come to town after losing a series against the White Sox.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

What started out with a tremendously fun Friday quickly turned to a series to forget for the Detroit Tigers. The Chicago White Sox are favored to when the AL Central division and they flexed their muscles after being walked off against in the first game of the season, winning the next two to hand the Tigers a series loss to start the 2022 campaign. Monday, the Tigers welcome a different shade of laundry to Comerica Park in the Boston Red Sox, and these Sox also have high aspirations despite getting off to a rocky start.

In an offseason that saw quite a few high profile shortstops hit free agency, the Red Sox added one of the best of the bunch in Trevor Story. Story was long considered to be an excellent consolation prize for the team that didn’t end up with Carlos Correa or Corey Seager, but the Red Sox were able to convince him to shift to second base in order to add him to an already impressive infield that consists of Xander Boegarts and Rafael Devers on the left side.

With six spots up for grabs this season, there’s a chance that four teams in a division could make the playoffs. If any division is going to do that in 2022, it’s going to be the AL East, and the Red Sox are right in the thick of it along with the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Rays — sorry Orioles. Boston has a lethal batting order that should compete with the best of them, but their pitching depth will be tested, especially early in the season as Chris Sale recovers from a stress fracture in his rib cage. This rotation can’t really hold a candle to the trio of power right-handers the Tigers saw from the south siders, but the Red Sox bullpen remains a tough group to deal with.

Detroit Tigers (1-2) vs. Boston Red Sox (1-2)

Time/Place: 5:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Over the Monster
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup (2021): RHP Matt Manning (4-7, 5.80 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Wacha (3-5, 5.05 ERA)

Game 4 Pitching Matchup (2021 stats)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Manning 85.1 14.8 8.6 4.62 0.9
Wacha 124.2 22.9 5.9 4.47 1.1

Fans should be grateful that the Tigers were able to escape the weekend series against Chicago with one game, because the way they played in all three games was not conducive to winning. The theme of the first two games was bad starting pitching and late inning rallies with one of those resulting in the exciting Javy Baez “wall-off win,” on Friday afternoon. Sunday, however, it was a Murphy’s Law kinda game. Starting pitching? Really bad. Bullpen? Bad. Offense? Non-existent. And the schedule does not get much easier with the Red Sox coming to town.

There is no denying the quality work Al Avila and the front office did in the off-season to add pieces to a Detroit Tigers team that looked like they were on the cusp of being competitive in 2021. However, they didn’t exactly blow us away this offseason either. Now, the only way those moves work in the short term are if they’re complementing the improvement of the former prospects who are now expected to lead the organization into a new era of winning baseball. It’s only been two games, but Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal did not hold up their end of the bargain. Both Mize and Skubal struggled immensely in their season debuts, which leaves Matt Manning as the last former prospect to get a turn through the rotation in 2022.

A 6-6 righty out of Sheldon High School in Sacramento, CA, Matt Manning was the first pick of the Tigers in the 2016 draft who made his debut last season in June against the Los Angeles Angels. Despite being drafted before Mize or Skubal, he is the youngest of the group and was the last to reach the majors. Manning is a heavy four-seam fastball pitcher who has struggled to find a secondary pitch to play off of since turning pro. He struggled through his first season with a 5.80 ERA in only 85.1 innings over 18 starts, but actually ended his season on a high note by throwing a shutout over five innings with seven strikeouts and one walk against against the White Sox.

The lineup of the Red Sox will pose a great challenge for Matt Manning. Rafael Devers, Xander Boegarts, and J.D. Martinez all have World Series rings in Boston and have been mainstays in the middle of the order for the last few years. Enrique Hernandez has been tremendous as the leadoff man, and although they lost Kyle Schwarber in the offseason, adding Trevor Story keeps them tough deep into the batting order. After three straight tough outings from the starting pitchers of Detroit, the Red Sox will do their best to extend that streak.

The starting pitching struggled in the weekend series, but let’s not let the offense off the hook. Austin Meadows was arguably the lone bright spot tallying four hits and three walks, and Javier Baez tallied four hits as well. Thankfully, the Tigers find themselves facing a pitcher on Monday night whose best years seem to be behind him. Michael Wacha started his career in St. Louis at the age of 21 with three straight sub-3.50 ERA seasons, and has struggled since to recapture the magic. After an injury-riddled 2020 with the Mets, Wacha signed with the Rays last year, and even they couldn’t fix him. Coming off a spring in which he allowed four home runs and 11 earned runs across 15 innings, the Tigers offense could be primed for a breakout game.

Key Matchup: Matt Manning vs. erratic off-speed command

Matt Manning had an okay spring training, but still struggled to locate a consistent secondary pitch. That... isn’t going to fly against major league hitters, much less a Boston lineup that is looking to feast on fastballs. In breaking camp as the fourth starter, Manning has a golden opportunity with the Tigers. Despite higher expectations around the team, he will have a longer leash as starting pitching depth is lacking at the moment. That doesn’t mean that AJ Hinch is going to let him get hung out to dry if he clearly shows that he’s not ready for the Show, though. Matt Manning will need to get control of his off-speed stuff on a consistent basis at some point, but if he can’t on Monday evening, it could be another dud by a Tigers starting pitcher.