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Tigers vs. Astros preview: Eduardo Rodriguez welcomes in the high-flying Houston Astros

After a good series against KC, the competition gets a lot tougher as a new homestand begins.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

A series win over the fourth place Kansas City Royals over the weekend allowed the Tigers to creep within two and a half games of the Royals in the AL Central. Things get a lot more difficult as they come home for series against the AL leading Houston Astros and then the Chicago White Sox this weekend.

Nothing that happens now will ease the pain of a brutal season for the Tigers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some positive developments underway. Over the last 30 days, the Tigers’ offense, still on track as one of the worst in baseball this season, has actually been a middle of the pack unit, producing a 101 wRC+. With Riley Greene finding his way, the addition of some young blood has helped the offense stave off the second half blahs afflicting many teams this late in the season.

Kerry Carpenter has provided some punch, with a 147 wRC+ in 21 games in the big leagues. Ryan Kreidler has only played eight games, but has made an impact with a game winning home run and some strong defensive work. Even Javier Báez, whose numbers are unrecoverable after a disastrous month of May, has been better after adopting an old separated hands drill he got from Manny Ramirez. The shortstop has a 136 wRC+ in September, lending some hope that he can work his way through his struggles and recapture his power next season.

Most importantly, one Spencer Torkelson has been absolutely raking since his return to the Tigers’ lineup. It’s only eight games, but suddenly Torkelson looks like Torkelson. He has a 196 wRC+ with a home run, a triple, two doubles, and three walks in just 32 plate appearances since his return. Let’s say rumors of his early demise were perhaps overstated.

Is any of this enough to help them take down the American League’s powerhouse? Perhaps not, but it lends credence to the idea that the club’s 2023 fortunes have a lot more positive potential than it felt like a month ago.

Detroit Tigers (54-86) vs. Houston Astros (90-50)

Time/Place: 6:40 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Crawfish Boxes
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (3-4, 4.13 ERA) vs. LHP Framber Valdez (14-5, 2.64 ERA)

Since his return, Eduardo Rodriguez has been competent, but not particularly good. He and Chris Fetter have done a little work tweaking the movement on his cutter, and he’s put together a couple of good starts showing a little more bite on the pitch. Fundamentally, he’s still a pitcher looking to pound the edges with his fastball and use his changeup for whiffs and weak contact. He’ll be sorely tested by one of the best lineups in the game tonight.

All year long, while struggling desperately to hit right-handed pitching, the Tigers have actually done a solid job against lefties. Framber Valdez isn’t your average southpaw, however. The command artist gets his fair share of strikeouts, but thrives by getting a steady diet of routine ground balls off his sinker hit right into the proper defensive alignments, and rarely ever surrenders a home run. Valdez’s out pitch is a tilting 79-80 mph curveball that is rarely hit hard, and he’ll mix in a fair number of changeups to keep right-handed hitters off balance.

The Tigers are probably going to have a hard time doing damage against Valdez, and Rodriguez is going to have a tough time keeping the Astros’ offense in check. With patient at-bats, the Tigers can put up a bit of offense, but they’re really going to need a strong effort from their own southpaw starter to keep this one close, and hopefully win it in the late innings.