The Detroit Tigers are only eleven games into their calendar, but for some it already feels like Thursday’s afternoon matchup with the New York Yankees is a must win game. Obviously that isn’t really the case, but it’s been a shaky start for a team looking to establish themselves as credible contenders for a wild card birth this season. The rotation, offense, and defensive performances have been lackluster, and only solid work from the bullpen and a couple of timely hits have separated them from a really ugly record to start the year.
However, while team performance takes precedence over individual accomplishments, Miguel Cabrera certainly qualifies as a unique circumstance. After a three-hit game on Wednesday, the Tigers’ legend is only one hit from reaching the 3000 hit plateau. When he gets that next knock, he’ll also join an even more elite club. Only Hank Aaron and Willie Mays have topped 3000 hits, and 500 home runs, while maintaining a .300 or better batting average for their career. Cabrera is in no danger in terms of batting average, as his career .310 mark is unassailable. And should that 3000th hit be a double, he’ll be in even more select company, as only Aaron has 600 doubles to go with the other three career marks.
Of course, on top of it all, Cabrera has himself a feat none of those mentioned ever achieved, completing the last Triple Crown back in 2012 en route to his first of two consecutive MVP awards.
As a team, the Tigers need to settle down and right the ship, but for the moment, the big man will continue to take center stage. However, in Cabrera’s mind, 3000 hits will come when it will, and winning baseball games is all that matters. His place in baseball history is already assured. Right now, Miguel Cabrera wants to play winning baseball again after a tough half decade of rebuilding.
Miguel Cabrera after being one hit away from 3,000 pic.twitter.com/KBbcASgnjS— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 21, 2022
Detroit Tigers (4-7) vs. New York Yankees (7-5)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. EDT, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Pineda (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (0-0, 3.24 ERA)
Game 12 Pitching Matchup
Thursday’s matchup will mark the season debut of veteran right-hander Michael Pineda for the Tigers. Inked to a one-year, $5.5M deal not long after the owner’s lockout ended, the delay was even worse for players like Pineda, who signed quickly only to wait weeks for their work visas to come through. Pineda made two short starts for the Toledo Mud Hens to tune up, and while he wasn’t particularly sharp, he looked very Michael Pineda-like. There is probably a little rust to be worked through, and the Tigers won’t be able to push him too deep into this one with only 6 1⁄3 innings thrown thus far, but it doesn’t look like Pineda will need much time to reach 100 percent.
It’s been some years since Pineda was a big, hard-throwing intimidator for the New York Yankees. He spent the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins, so he’s quite familiar in his later career form to Tigers’ fans. Rarely topping 92 mph anymore, Pineda’s precision and knowledge of setting hitters up have become his primary weapons in recent seasons. He retains a good slider, but still gets a below average number of strikeouts while rarely walking anyone. Instead he relies on making his opponents beat themselves by avoiding both free passes and the heart of the strike zone. That ability will be sorely tested by a power packed New York Yankees lineup. The Tigers’ defense is going to be tested as well, and so far they have been decidedly lacking.
As for Jordan Montgomery, the 29-year-old southpaw battled through some injury plagued years to emerge as a good mid-rotation starter over the past two seasons. He features a pretty pedestrian fastball, but commands it pretty well, backing it up with a very good curveball-changeup combination that allows him to handle hitters of either hand consistently.
The 6-foot-6 lefty is off to a good start in 2022. He’s apparently ditched his cutter, and so far is throwing about 50 percent fastballs, with the curve and changeup each around 25 percent usage. Montgomery tends to pound the bottom of the zone with sinkers, and that’s really the only pitch that has been hit hard in recent years. Here and there he’ll run a fourseamer upstairs looking for whiffs or pop-ups. Once he’s got strike one, he’s quite good at expanding the zone with his secondary pitches. It’s hard for a hitter to do any damage if they can’t lay off the steady diet of curves and changeups that Montgomery will locate no matter the count when he’s in a good groove.
Key Matchup: The offense has got to get loose
The Tigers can stack up a healthy lineup of right-handed hitters against Montgomery, but they’re going to have their work cut out for them. Montgomery gives up more extra-base power and home runs to right-handers, but he’s no pushover against them either. So far, a Tigers’ offense that added a lot of power to the lineup this offseason has not produced in that department. If that doesn’t change it’s probably going to be another long day in the D, whether Miggy collects his 3000th hit or not. We’ll bet that he does, so if you’re able, it’s a good day to get to the ballpark and hopefully see something very special.