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Game 6 Preview: Tigers hunt for a series win against the Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez will have the ball looking to take down his old team.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

After getting out to a good start with a win on Monday, and an early lead on Tuesday, the Tigers sleepwalked their way through the late innings to lose 5-3 and even the series with the Boston Red Sox. Now, they’ll send their big free agent pitching acquisition against his old team looking to take the series and get back to .500.

Rodriguez’s first start, against the Chicago White Sox, was very uncharacteristic. His stuff looked good as ever, but his command was not, and Rodriguez fell behind too many hitters and wasted opportunities to put guys away. If the Tigers are going to get the victory, they’ll need better work. Fortunately, E-Rod’s track record says they’re likely to get it.

As for the offense, it’s been a sluggish start. Some timely Javier Báez and Austin Meadows knocks have papered over the fact that the offense has been striking out too much through the first handful of games. It’s still early, and you can expect this offense to continue to be in the top 10 in strikeouts. However, they have taken their walks as well, and the balance should come from the power of this lineup, but we may not see all of that until the weather warms up a little further.

Detroit Tigers (2-3) vs. Boston Red Sox (2-3)

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

SB Nation Blog: Over the Monster

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

Pitching Matchup: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA) vs. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75 ERA)

Game 7 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher 2021 IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher 2021 IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Mize 150.1 19.3 6.7 4.71 1.3
Greinke 171.0 17.2 5.2 4.71 1.3

Both starters in this contest pitched better than their ERA would show in 2021. Rodriguez dealt with a .363 BABIP against, which isn’t explainable by anything other than bad luck and perhaps bad infield defense as well. Eovaldi’s BABIP was only .326, but that’s still 34 points higher than league average. The duo of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogearts didn’t do their pitchers any favors last year.

Against a powerful lineup of right-handers, the key pitch for Rodriguez will be his changeup. It’s a really good one, and he should be able to keep the Sox lineup off balance, as long as he commands his fastball-cutter combo better than he did on Opening Day. The Tigers will need him to be efficient, as the bullpen beyond Michael Fulmer and Gregory Soto looks quite hittable. If Rodriguez can get them six innings with a lead, they’ll be in good shape, though the Red Sox offense is always dangerous.

As for Eovaldi, he’s always been talented, but in recent years he’s finally been healthy as well. He remains among the hardest throwing starters in the game, averaging 96.9 mph on his four-seamer last season. A hard slider, good power curve, and a good splitter round out a very dangerous repertoire.

Key to the game

Despite the velo, Eovaldi’s flat, tailing fastball is fairly hittable, but if he is getting ahead strike one, the Tigers’ offense is going to be in trouble. Behind in the count, against the curveball and the splitter, it’s hard to avoid chasing pitches in the dirt. They’ll need to ambush a few early heaters, hope to throw him off his game, and battle hard to try to get Eovaldi out of the game as early as possible.

Of course, the Red Sox will be trying to do the same to Rodriguez, and the Red Sox bullpen is markedly better than the Tigers right now. Eovaldi was tougher on lefties than right-handers last year, in part due to that splitter, and the Tigers are now without leadoff man Robbie Grossman for a bit. Willi Castro seems like the likely roster replacement should Grossman hit the IL, but today, Akil Baddoo is likely going to be leading off, and the Tigers could use some spark and speed on the bases if they’re going to get to Eovaldi. Baddoo hit fastballs over 95 mph from right-handers well last year, posting a .218 ISO against, and Jonathan Schoop was also good against big-time velocity, so let’s hope the Tigers can do some damage.