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Tigers at Guardians preview: The final series of a long first half arrives

The Tigers look to fight through their Progressive Field record to finish the first half on a high note.

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MLB: Cleveland Guardians at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last four weeks, the Detroit Tigers finally righted the ship and played more respectable baseball. But the struggles of veteran hitters who sank their season early haven’t really abated at all, either. Javier Báez has done more damage recently, and the arrival of Riley Greene has given them a solid leadoff presence. Eric Haase has finally caught fire and added power to the mix. But as a team, the 2022 Tigers are still hitting with an unnerving lack of power, and the attrition in the starting rotation has finally reached critical levels.

Coming into Cleveland at the end of a 12 game road trip to close out the first half of the season, this is a club sorely in need of a few days off. Instead they’ll have a tough test facing them again.

Still, the Tigers are off to an 8-7 start in July. After dropping three of four in Kansas City, coming into Progressive Field doesn’t exactly bode well for moral victories headed into the break, but Cleveland isn’t exactly rolling along either. The Tigers can’t do a whole lot more than try to earn back a modicum of faith from an extremely frustrated fanbase the rest of the way, and hope to see some players —looking right at you, Spencer— turn their season around. Finishing with a road series win, with the hope of getting a little healthier over the break, would certainly improve the mood.

As for the Cleveland Guardians, they made a run at the AL Central leading Minnesota Twins in June, but have scuffled to a 3-7 record over their last 10 games, dipping just under the .500 mark. As usual they’ve put together a solid, if uninspiring, offense around Jose Ramirez. The pitching just hasn’t been up to their usual quality, but they do have Shane Bieber finally rounding into form. There isn’t a single pitching matchup in this series that Detroit will be favored in, but other than going up against Bieber on Sunday, the rest are still pretty winnable. Hopefully the hits are a little more timely in Cleveland than they were in KC.

Detroit Tigers (37-52) at Cleveland Guardians (43-44)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation Site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchups: RHP Elvin Rodriguez (0-2, 11.51) vs. RHP Triston McKenzie (6-6, 3.47 ERA)

Game 90 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Rodriguez 20.1 8.77 16.7 9.4 3.98 -0.6
McKenzie 93.1 4.57 22.9 7.4 1.54 0.6

Elvin Rodriguez’s brief appearances in the majors this season haven’t gone well. The stuff seems good enough, with Rodriguez’s high spin fourseamer looking like a solid pitch. His slider and changeup have drawn a solid amount of whiffs. The problem, as it’s usually been in his career, is that nothing stands out enough to overcome his loose command.

If Rodriguez can spot his fastball effectively, his two main secondary pitches are enough to keep the Cleveland offense in check. However, we haven’t seen him do so for any sustained stretch in any game other than a four inning outing against these same Guardians at the end of May. In his five Triple-A starts since being returned to Toledo, nothing much has changed. He was much more effective for the Mud Hens, as you’d expect, but not very efficient, and overall the command still looked iffy and there was no noticeable changes to his delivery or approach to suggest he was working on anything.

If he can keep the ball in the park against the fastball, he can probably give the Tigers 4-5 decent innings, but they’re going to have to cash in their runners on base much better than they did against the Royals to win.

Triston McKenzie makes for an interesting comparison. The lanky right-hander features a pretty similar fastball with even a bit less velocity, but similar spin characteristics. It’s not a high wattage fourseamer, averaging 92.3 mph to Rodriguez’s 93.1 mph. McKenzie’s slider also has a similar release and shape. However, McKenzie’s curveball is a monster pitch when he’s right, collecting a lot of whiffs and weak contact. It’s a similar version to Tigers’ reliever Alex Lange, in that it’s a low spin curve that still manages to get enough seam-based movement to be trouble for either handed hitters.

McKenzie stands out from Rodriguez with better command and more experience. He’s also thrashed the Tigers on a few occasions in his short career already. So he should have plenty of confidence welcoming in the Tigers’ lineup. If the Detroiters can lay off that curveball and get to McKenzie’s fastball and slider in the zone, they should have a solid day, but we won’t be betting on that. Just hope Rodriguez is sharp. If he can keep his fourseamer out of the heart of the plate, he should be able to hang with McKenzie and get this one to the Tigers’ bullpen with the game well within reach.