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Game 111 Preview: Tigers try not to catch Bieber Fever

The Cleveland Guardians come to town and send Shane Bieber to the mound to kickoff a three game series.

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Arizona Diamondbacks v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Cleveland Guardians roll into Detroit on Tuesday night to kick off a three game series against the Tigers. The Guards currently sit one game behind the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central Division and are a game and a half out of the third and final AL Wild Card spot. With the Seattle Mariners currently occupying that final spot and the surprising Baltimore Orioles only a game behind, exciting baseball games will most definitely be played down the stretch to determine who makes the playoffs. For all his bad ideas, I’ll admit that Commissioner Rob Manfred was right to expand the playoffs. It’s been a lot of fun to see more teams competing deep into the summer.

Obviously, Cleveland’s cleanest path to the postseason is simply winning the division. The Twins traded for lots of pitching help at the trade deadline while the only move the Guardians made was to send a backup catcher to, ironically, Minnesota. However, Cleveland just keeps chugging along as they always seem to do. The Tigers shockingly lead the season series against the Guardians 7-5, though they were swept in their last three game series in Cleveland. The two teams still match up seven more times in 2022 – unless they meet up in the playoffs, lol jk – so time will tell if the Tigers can earn a winning record against Cleveland for the first time since 2015.

Detroit Tigers (43-67) vs. Cleveland Guardians (56-52)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Alexander (2-5, 4.04 ERA) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (6-6, 3.39 ERA)

Game 111 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Alexander 42.1 13.6 5.7 4.22 0.3
Bieber 124.2 25.1 5.6 2.96 2.3

Since the teams last met, the Tigers have re-solidified their place at the bottom of the division and have no apparent plans to relinquish it. At 43-67, the word ‘disaster’ doesn’t seem to do the season justice. Outside of Harold Castro, every single hitter on the team has been worse than their career averages. Spencer Torkelson couldn’t hit above his weight and has since been returned to Triple-A Toledo where his struggles have continued. Riley Greene is now in the red for fWAR – red means negative, for you non-accounting people – though he still shows the mature approach that led many to believe, myself included, that he is a future All-Star. The bullpen, which has been very good overall, is reeling after Gregory Soto allowed five runs in his last outing to blow the game on Sunday. The rotation has been a carousel of arms coming and going after various injuries, and yet surprisingly solid most of the time.

Tarik Skubal going on the injured list last week made him the final member of the opening day rotation to miss time, adding to the season from hell. Tyler Alexander, who wasn’t supposed to be in the opening day rotation, has paid his dues on the injured list and returned to the mound every fifth day. While he’s not expected to pitch deep into the later innings, steady is a good word to describe him as he’s been good enough to keep the team in games. Tuesday night will be his seventh start of the season and 17th overall appearance. He’s only got 24 strikeouts across 42.1 innings, but he doesn’t walk many hitters and is a healthy arm with MLB experience, so he’s more than worthy of a spot in this rotation.

I’ve already written about Shane Bieber this season, and my original conclusions remain unchanged. Though he’s some lost velocity, he still knows how to locate his fastball effectively to get hitters out. He’s not the strikeout artist he was over the previous two seasons, but he doesn’t need to be. It’s odd that he lost two ticks on the radar gun between this season and last, but at 27 years old, if this is who Bieber is for the remainder of his prime, he’s going to remain a problem for opposing hitters.

For his career, Bieber has a 2.61 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 11 appearances against the Tigers. Oddly enough, his worst outing against Detroit was his last outing against Detroit back on July 6th when the Tigers tagged him for five runs in 5.2 innings. Will Detroit be able to duplicate their success Tuesday night? Coming off a game on Sunday where the offense was shut out for – checks notes – the 15th time this season, I wouldn’t count on it.

Key Matchup: Fan interest vs. the Tigers

Why is anyone still watching the Tigers? Why do I still watch the Tigers?!? I wouldn’t say that I have a ton going on in my life to keep me from turning on the television on weeknights, but why do we specifically tune in to watch this iteration of the Detroit Tigers? I don’t have a good answer and neither do you. The organization has given us nothing to be excited about.

Miguel Cabrera reaching milestones was incredible to watch, but his nagging knee injuries have made him a shell of himself, and he can no longer play daily. There are no milestones left in sight. The big free agent signings in Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez have been disastrous in year one. Austin Meadows has been injured all year while Isaac Paredes leads the Tampa Bay Rays in home runs. Casey Mize had Tommy John surgery, Matt Manning has only just returned from a shoulder issue that cost him most of the season, Tarik Skubal finally needed a break, Spencer Torkelson forgot how to do the one thing he was drafted to do, and Riley Greene is too green to be an impact bat yet. Now that all those players have graduated from being prospects, the farm system is back in the bottom third in league rankings.

This will be the eighth consecutive season that the Tigers miss the playoffs, and Al Avila has been the general manager for 7.5 of those seasons. In those 7.5 years of tearing down and rebuilding, how much closer are we to competing for a World Series than before? We’ve been told to trust the process for years, and there’s little to show for it. There’s been bad luck, and plenty of it, but the Roman philosopher Seneca said, “luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” and the Tigers have been ill-prepared to compete for many years and have not taken advantage of a whole host of opportunities to get better. And so, I ask again, why are we still watching this?