Detroit Tigers Newsletter: After savage road trip, time to get Buc wild at Comerica Park

Detroit Free Press

We knew the Detroit Tigers would come back to Earth after a, well, Astro-nomical three-game sweep of Houston. (Of course, we didn’t know they were going to sweep in the first place, because if we had, we would probably not be allowed inside any of the sportsbooks in downtown Detroit anymore.)

But a brutal four-game sweep by the Oakland A’s? The only difference between that series and a montage from “Moneyball” was that Bally Sports Detroit didn’t keep cutting to Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill celebrating.

But, just like we haven’t popped “Moneyball” into the Honolulu-Blu-Ray player here in the Newsletter-Cave in a good long while, we’re not going to look back at that series too much.

Hello, and welcome to the Detroit Tigers Newsletter!

Instead, let’s take a look ahead at three things you’ll likely hear about when the Tigers take the field again Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jim Leyland: Hey, did you know the Tigers’ skipper from 2006-13 also managed the Pirates from 1986-96? No, really, he did. In 1,716 games with the Bucs, he went 851-863, a winning percentage of .496. He was slightly more successful with the Tigers, going 700-597 — a .540 winning percentage — with two AL pennants. None of that will affect the three games this week, but still, it’s nice to remember a time when the Tigers (and, further back, the Pirates) were winners. (Other notable Detroit/Pittsburgh crossovers: Kirk Gibson, Brandon Inge, Jerome Bettis, Richie Hebner and Super Bowl XL. You’ve been warned.)

The 2021 draft: When all eyes turn toward <checks notes> Colorado <really?> on July 11 for the MLB draft, the Pirates and Tigers will be picking No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. While the field of top-tier picks is still winnowing itself down, there’s a decent chance that one — or both — of the teams invests in a starting pitcher from Vanderbilt. Jack Leiter (nephew of former Tiger Mark Leiter) is putting up video-game numbers: 17 hits and 22 walks allowed over 55⅓ innings, with 91 strikeouts. Kumar Rocker, vanquisher of Michigan baseball in the 2019 College World Series, is hot, too: 29 hits and 15 walks in 55 innings with 81 strikeouts.

Tigers’ road trip ends how it began: Seven things we learned from seven losses ]

Colin Moran: An Astros prospect when AJ Hinch was the manager there, Moran was shipped to the Pirates as part of the deal that brought Gerrit Cole to Houston. After three so-so seasons with the Bucs, Moran appears to be having a career year at age 28, with four doubles, four homers and eight walks — and 20 strikeouts, because this is baseball in 2021 — in 65 plate appearances. (The other key piece to Pittsburgh: recent Padres no-no hurler Joe Musgrove. Patience is a virtue.)

And, of course, they’ll probably talk a bit about the Tigers and what went wrong in Oakland, too. The Freep’s Jeff Seidel has some thoughts on that here, including why Hinch’s game-to-game focus should be a bonus once again.

Stinko de Mize-O

One player you won’t see in the series against Pittsburgh: Casey Mize. The righty, like seemingly every other Tiger on the roster, was excellent in Houston and, uh, not excellent in Oakland. (His turn in the rotation is set for Friday’s series opener against the Royals,) Still, the Freep’s Evan Petzold found a lot to like in Mize’s first career victory against the Astros; find out here why he says Mize is living up to his No. 1 overall potential. And even Mize’s … did we use “not excellent” already? … start against the A’s had a silver lining, as the Freep’s Dana Gauruder noted in his coverage of Saturday’s early carnage.

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Astro-nom … oh, wait

In the same way that Jim Harbaugh’s résumé should always lead with his visits to New Jersey and not Ohio, we don’t want to speed past how dominant the Tigers looked in sweeping Houston at the start of the week. Was it all a hallucination brought on by Megan Thee Stallion cuts on repeat and a hunger for Whataburger? Our Man Petzold was watching, and he has some thoughts on the savage sweep here.

Wil-power

If you’re looking for an obvious difference in the two sweeps, Wilson Ramos leaps to the front. Against the Astros, the 33-year-old went 4-for-14 with two homers, a strikeout and four RBIs. Against the A’s, he went 2-for-15 with no homers and four strikeouts. Our Man Petzold took a look here at how Ramos’ run left him with more homers this season than all of last year.

Tigers stock watch: Casey Mize starting to meet expectations as former No. 1 pick ]

From good to Baddoo

Akil Baddoo fared much better in Texas than in California, too. In Houston: 5-for-11, two homers, two doubles, four strikeouts. In Oakland: 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts. Is The Great Baddoo Narrative starting to wind down? We took a look here at some other 10-game wonders over the past 29 seasons to get an idea of what Baddoo’s future could hold.

3 to watch

With just under a tenth of the season completed, the Tigers’ rotation is still in flux. Here’s three pitchers to keep an eye on this week:

SPENCER TURNBULL: He’s back from COVID-19 and starting Wednesday.

TARIK SKUBAL: Bitten by the homer bug, he’ll be pitching Wednesday, too (we think).

JOSE URENA: A ‘vintage’ start keeps his spot in the rotation, for now.

Alex the pretty good

In four appearances, rookie rightly Alex Lange has already struck out five of his 14 batters faced. Our Man Seidel took a look here at the 25-year-old with “nasty stuff” — the highly technical term used by his manager Wednesday — and why his breakout campaign may end up more impressive than Baddoo’s.

Happy birthday, Bryan Garcia!

He may not officially be the Tigers’ closer, but the team leader in saves (with two) turns 26 on Monday. The season started a bit rough for Garcia, but he was one of the few Tigers with a good week, as he struck out three batters in 2⅓ scoreless innings against the Astros. (He didn’t see any action in Oakland, but we’ll chalk that up to the lack of high-leverage innings until Sunday’s season finale.)

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Milt Wilcox (70 on Tuesday), Willi Castro (24 on Saturday), Todd Jones (53 on Saturday), Bill Krueger (63 on Saturday), Daniel Norris (28 on Sunday), Jacque Jones (46 on Sunday), Tony Phillips (would have been 62 on Sunday, died in 2016).

Mark your calendar

The Tigers get a day of rest — as do we — to process that 10-game road swing and reacclimate to the Eastern time zone. They’re back at it Tuesday at Comerica Park — a 6:40 p.m. start time, with snow in the forecast! — for a three-game series against the Pirates (aka “The Battle for Jim Leyland’s Soul”), followed by a four-game series against the Royals (aka “The Series That Reminds You AJ Hinch Played 117 Games for Kansas City in 2001-02”) that’ll wrap around the weekend.

Michael Fulmer takes the mound for the series opener Tuesday after picking up his first win since June 14, 2018, on Wednesday in Houston. Beating the Pirates would give him his first back-to-back wins since July 4-9, 2017. Our Man Petzold broke down here what made Wednesday’s victory so special, as Fulmer continues down what he called “a really long road.”

TL;DR

As bad as the Tigers’ weekend in Oakland was, Sunday’s work by Matthew Boyd — 7⅓ innings, two earned runs, five strikeouts and one walk — was excellent, despite finally allowing a home run after more than 26 innings. More than 250 MLB pitchers gave up a home run this season before Boyd did — including Buck Farmer, four times. And if you bet on that … well, you’re probably not allowed in the casinos, either.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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