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Tigers vs. Athletics preview: Time is wasting on a turnaround

The Tigers are running out of time to start winning series and make this more than another year of rebuilding.

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Detroit Tigers - Game Two Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers are coming home this week, and the welcome probably isn’t going to be real warm after getting swept in a four-game set with the Houston Astros. Things couldn’t be going any worse after the Tigers entered the season looking to establish themselves as a solid team set up to contend in the years ahead. All that is still on the table, but hopes for an early playoff chase are hanging by a thread. If the club can’t rip off a pretty good stretch of winning baseball over the next two weeks, thoughts will already be turning to the trade deadline and the draft.

For now, the Tigers have a manageable task ahead of them. They’ll play five, including a Tuesday doubleheader, against the Oakland Athletics in Comerica Park starting Monday night. The A’s are entering one of their cycles of selloff and buildup, and weren’t expected to do much this season after trading away several of their best players. They currently hold a record just slightly better than the Tigers. If the Olde English D can’t emerge triumphant against Oakland and then fellow bottom-feeder the Baltimore Orioles, that’s a sign that the proverbial goose is cooked.

Detroit Tigers (8-19) vs. Oakland Athletics (10-18)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Athletics Nation
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Pineda (1-1, 3.77 ERA) vs. RHP Paul Blackburn (3-0, 2.22 ERA)

Game 28 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pineda 14.1 5.10 14.0 3.5 1.88 0.0
Blackburn 24.1 2.09 25.0 3.3 0.37 0.8

28-year-old Paul Blackburn has taken a long time to establish himself in the major leagues. Drafted by the Cubs and dealt to the Seattle Mariners, the Oakland Athletics acquired Blackburn back in 2016 in a trade that sent Danny Valencia to Seattle. A low velocity groundball pitcher with mediocre secondaries, Blackburn was rarely regarded as more than a depth starter, but after revamping his curveball grip over the offseason, Blackburn looks like a new man. So far in 2022 he’s been one of the better pitchers in the game.

Blackburn averages 91-92 mph with a prototypical sinker, the most prominent pitch in his repertoire. He’s always had a solid changeup, and tweaked a mediocre slider into more of a cutter this offseason to good effect thus far. But it’s the development of his curveball early on that has carried him, and he’s throwing it twice as often as he used to as a result.

Blackburn has no real track record as a strikeout pitcher, but early on he’s posting the best marks of his career. While he’s still not exactly racking up a unique amount of strikeouts, that development, combined with the good command that has always carried him, has made Blackburn quite effective through five starts this season. Should the Tigers be able to get to him? Yes. Will they? Well, you’ve watched the Tigers in 2022.

Opposing Blackburn is veteran Michael Pineda for the Tigers. As expected, Pineda is basically the same pitcher he’s been for years. He has great command of three pretty average pitches, doesn’t walk hitters, and is excellent at keeping hitters off balance and getting weak contact in the air. He gives away nothing, and forces teams to play station-to-station baseball. Unless a team gets to him for a home run in a jam, it’s hard to post a big inning against him.

Overall it's a reasonably even pitching matchup until Blackburn proves his upgrades are durable. We'll see if the offense can wake up to a little home cooking and begin putting their disastrous start behind them.