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Game 10 Preview: Tigers look to keep that series opener momentum going

Three of the Tigers’ four wins have come in the first game of each series.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Three series into the season, there is not a ton that jumps out about the 2022 Detroit Tigers just yet. The team is near the bottom in runs scored, which was to be expected given the current lineup, and around league-average in runs allowed, which is what has kept the team near .500. All four wins have been of the one- or two-run variety, and that should continue to be the case.

Interestingly, three of those wins came in series openers, which means that the Tigers are just 1-5 in Games 2 and 3. That is not of concern on Tuesday night, though, as Detroit returns home and welcomes in the New York Yankees for a trio of contests. With the rainout Sunday pushing his scheduled start back, Tyler Alexander gets another chance to make an impression; Adam Dubbin gave a nice recap of the southpaw’s first outing ahead of his postponed second start:

The right-hander took the next step during the COVID campaign of 2020 and showed even further improvement in 2021, when he put up a 3.81 ERA, 4.39 FIP and 1.26 WHIP in 106 1⁄3 innings that spanned over 41 appearances, starting 15 and finishing seven. The 27-year-old had a bit of a bumpy start in 2022, surrendering three earned runs on five hits (no walks or home runs) while striking out four over 5 1⁄3 frames, giving him a bloated 5.06 ERA coming into Sunday’s game but a sparkling 1.57 FIP and 0.94 WHIP as well.

Alexander uses a five-pitch arsenal that was dominated by his cutter (86.2 mph) in 2021, which he leaned on 35.4% of the time, followed by his sinker (90.2 mph), changeup (83.7 mph), four-seam fastball (90.5 mph) and slider (82.2 mph) that were utilized 20.6%, 18.4%, 15.1% and 10.5%, respectively, according to Baseball Savant. In his first game this season, however, the sinker was his primary pitch seeing use in nearly half of his pitches, while his change and cutter were the predominant secondary pitches, and the last two saw sparse usage.

New York Yankees (5-5) vs. Detroit Tigers (4-5)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Gerrit Cole (0-0, 5.59 ERA) vs. LHP Tyler Alexander (0-0, 5.06 ERA)

Game 29 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Skubal 39.2 28.3 5.0 2.08 1.5
Civale 24.2 22.3 6.6 5.52 -0.1

The narrative on Gerrit Cole is well documented at this point, but still potentially overblown. The Yankees ace had been one of the best pitchers in baseball since the Houston Astros raided the Pirates’ organization for him, but MLB’s crackdown on foreign substances seemingly caused a dramatic regression in his performance last season. Cole’s ERA jumped from 2.68 in the first half of 2021 to 4.14 after the break, fueling the suspicion of the 31-year-old’s significant reliance on the sticky stuff. Two rough games into 2022 have not done anything to dispel this belief amongst some in the baseball community.

On the other hand, Cole posted a 2.91 FIP in the first half last year, and a 2.95 FIP in the second half. His strikeout, walk, and home run rates remain close to his usual standards. After a rocky month of June when the new foreign substance enforcement came on line, his advanced statistics were still excellent, if not peak 2018-2019 Gerrit Cole. Combined with outsized batting average on balls in play (BABIP) marks in July and Sept/Oct, there’s a decent argument to suggest that Cole sorted things out and just had some breaks go against him in the second half.

Most of Cole’s recent issues seem a function of command more than notable declines in velocity and movement. He’s actually throwing as hard as ever. The stuff looks only slightly diminished, and while he was among those who saw the most drop in spin rate, the difference in his stuff is pretty marginal. The movement profiles on his fastball, slider, curveball mix remain within his normal tolerances. If he’s not quite peak Cole, he’s not that far from it.

Key matchup: Detroit offense vs. not scoring

No one expects the Tigers lineup, especially with Javier Báez and Riley Greene out injured, to be a top tier unit, but it will be a long season if the woes at the plate continue. The Tigers are near the bottom of the league with just six homers and sit well below average with a collective 82 wRC+ heading into the series.

On the other hand, the Tigers are 10th best in drawing walks, second in fly balls, and eleventh in average exit velocity. They’re set up to get on base, put their speed to work, and hit more home runs, but that approach may not be as effective as it could be until temperatures heat up. As with the injuries, the focus right now is on hanging tough for a few weeks and sticking near the .500 mark. If the injury bug backs off they should get better as the year progresses.

Cole has clearly been struggling by his lofty standards, making this a better chance to start the homestand off strong than you might expect despite a tough pitching matchup. Tyler Alexander continues to churn out solid starts, and if he can keep the Yankees’ offense under control, the Tigers will have their chances.