The last time the Detroit Tigers won after Saturday’s loss to the New York Yankees was four games ago against the Chicago White Sox. Now, they stare a road sweep straight in their faces after dropping the first two of a weekend tilt in the Big Apple. Considering that the team has only won twice in its last 16 games, things are getting desperate for the once-storied big league club.
The Tigers send the same starting pitcher to the hill on Sunday as they did the last time they tasted the sweetness of victory, which hopefully bodes well for the floundering franchise. Facing an aged version of a one-time ace in the pinstripes, they might just get a chance to snap the streak and turn things around. But do not hold your breath on that one.
Detroit Tigers (8-20) at New York Yankees (13-14)
Time/Place: 1:05 p.m. EDT, Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Pitching Matchup: RHP José Ureña (1-3, 3.77 ERA) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (1-2, 4.15 ERA)
Game 29 Pitching Matchup
So far this season, José Ureña has been a pleasant surprise as a starter for Detroit. After a rough debut appearance on April 5 against the Minnesota Twins in which he lasted only three innings while giving up six runs, he quickly improved over the next couple of games until he planed out on his current plateau. Over his last three starts, the former Maimi Marlin has pitched exactly seven innings in each, allowing two runs in all three — but only one earned run in his most recent win against the White Sox — though his strikeout numbers have taken a dip in his last two contests. The bottom line is that Ureña has provided the Tigers much-needed quality innings over his first month in the Motor City.
Taking a step deeper, the 29-year-old right-hander has gotten the job done despite his lagging walk and strikeout numbers. According to Baseball Savant, Ureña has excelled at suppressing barreled balls, sitting in the 75th percentile in barrel percentage, while also rating well in expected slugging percentage (59th percentile) and average exit velocity (54th percentile); he also has a high rating on his fastball (79th percentile). What it boils down to is that his four-pitch arsenal anchored by his sinker and slider are keeping opposing hitters from making solid contact.
For the Yankees, two-time Cy Young Award-winner Cory Kluber gets his sixth start of the 2021 season — one that started out rough but has smoothed out as he amasses innings. Much like Ureña, he got pummelled in his opening outing but has steadily improved since, tossing his best game so far last time out against the Baltimore Orioles going 6 2⁄3 innings allowing just an earned run and two walks while striking out five for his first win of the year.
Klubot has taken a different approach so far this year with his five-pitch arsenal, relying on his 87.6 mph cutter the most at 30.3 percent usage, while he compliments that 29 percent of the time with his 81.7 mph curveball and his 90.6 mph sinker — which has traditionally been his primary pitch but has dropped to a 23.3 percent usage rate. His four-seamer (89.8 mph) and (84.7 mph) are used 10 and 7.5 percent of the time, respectively.
What stands out about the grizzled veteran right-hander is his overall decline in velocity on his four-seam and sinker offerings, but he still maintains an above-average spin rate on his fastball (65th percentile) and curveball (59th percentile). This has helped him maintain his high whiff percentage (66th percentile), hard-hit percentage (62nd percentile) and chase rate (57th percentile). Kluber may not be a staff ace anymore but he clearly still has the tools to be an effective middle-of-the-rotation starter at the ripe age of 35 years old.
Key Matchup: Offense vs. Corey Kluber
Truly, the heading here should be “My sanity vs. Detroit Tigers” but I am not entirely sure I am even sane anymore having followed this team these past several seasons. But if the Tigers are going to win today, they need to score some runs off of the Yankees starter. The last time the Motor City Kitties notched one in the win column, the defense fortified the sleeping chamber with feces, and yet Ureña was able to hold steady and guide the team to victory thanks to five runs provided by the offense. In regards to Kluber, he holds a 12-7 record, 3.48 ERA, 1.153 WHIP, 173 strikeouts and 32 walks in 163 innings against Detroit over the past 10 seasons, and has generally owned this team. But this is not exactly the same Kluber of old and there are some new faces wearing the Olde English D, so maybe the Tigers can get it done this afternoon.
Otherwise, I just might lose my mind.