It’s been a wild week in Tiger Town. The entire sports media complex, along with more casual elements of the fanbase, all seemed to have finally popped the red pill. From apathy, if not a total lack of attention, over the past few years, suddenly sports media hosts and social media pundits have fully flipped the switch and are now calling for general manager Al Avila’s head. As the Tigers return to Detroit, they’re not going to have the welcome mat rolled out for their homecoming.
The problem, is that much of the criticism is based on things that matter not at all to the Tigers future. As a result, it’s likely to be nothing more than angry clickbait with little sustaining power.
Miguel Cabrera’s total lack of production is frustrating, but neither that lack, nor his contract, have any real bearing on whether the Tigers are contenders in 2022-2023. The lack of offensive production from players like Jonathan Schoop, Victor Reyes, Grayson Greiner, or JaCoby Jones, does not really matter. None of those players will be a factor in any notable way when, and if, the front office and their scouting and player development staffs are able to turn around this jalopy of a rebuild.
The problem, is that if the Tigers start playing mediocre baseball, rather than historically bad baseball, and a few of the expected young player perform as advertised, all those criticisms are going to rapidly be silenced, since so much of it is based in irrelevancy to begin with.
What matters, are the young players, particularly those on the farm, and whether or not the Tigers can develop that talent. It matters whether the front office can actually manage to acquire any controllable talent for the long haul at the major league level through trades and other acquisitions, rather than squandering opportunities. It matters if the new coaching staff can do what Ron Gardenhire and Brad Ausmus’ staffs could not: improve the players that they have and develop them into more valuable assets. These are the areas where the rebuild completely floundered from the beginning, and only recently have we seen signs of progress.
So instead, let’s turn to someone who could matter an awful lot.
Lefty Tarik Skubal is off to a brutal start in his second look at the big leagues. His stuff is sorely diminished compared to the flame-throwing, high spin, bat missing excellence we saw in his quick ascension through the minor leagues, and even in his rocky debut in 2020. The loss of command has also been a big factor, though the issues underlying the command and the stuff are presumably intricately linked. Hopefully tonight is the night Skubal begins to turn things around against a Minnesota Twins club that expected to contend, but has so far fallen on its face to a degree that may be uncoverable.
Time/Place: 7:10 pm ET, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (0-6, 6.14 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Shoemaker (1-3, 7.83 ERA)
Game 33 Pitching Matchup
We’ve covered Skubal’s myriad issues quite a few times already, so we’ll just re-hash the hits here. His fastball spin rate average is way down so far this season, and correspondingly, his fastball is dropping about two and a half inches more than usual. From gliding over bats up in the zone, the heater is now getting squared up much more often. His slider and curveball have been more effective that his new splitter, but he’s continuing to work on all three. More than anything, without the margin of an elite fastball, the flaws in his command have been very apparent to all. If he can resolve some of the command issues, perhaps he’ll loosen up and some of the stuff will return as well since he apparently isn’t having any injury issues.
As for his opponent, Matt Shoemaker is a starting pitcher who has come up regularly over the past few seasons as your quintessential one-year journeyman pickup. Plagued seemingly every season by injuries, Shoemaker has also managed to look quite good whenever he’s put together a stretch of health. You just really don’t know what you’re going to get when the 34-year-old Michigan native—who played his prep ball at Trenton High School—takes the mound.
Shoemaker features a mix of low-90’s fourseamers and sinkers, playing his slider and splitter off them to generate whiffs and ground balls. Typically, his stuff has benefited from deception and Shoemaker’s ability to mess with hitters timing. He doesn’t get that many strikeouts, but he can be very frustrating for hitters to deal with. So far this year though, hitters have taken that frustration out on the baseball, launching seven home runs in just 23 innings of work. Shoemaker is posting the worst strikeout rate of his career as well, with even the splitter failing to generate whiffs. The Tigers should have a good chance of building on some of their offensive success in Boston tonight.
Key Matchup: Tigers bullpen vs. exhaustion
The final two games in Boston taxed the heck out of both bullpens, and the Tigers don’t really have much depth to begin with. Friday afternoon, they DFA’d Buck Farmer and called up Erasmo Ramirez, so they’ll have a reasonably fresh, if not particularly good, arm available to handle a dangerous Twins lineup that has staggered out of the gate so far this season. Other than Byron Buxton and Nelson Cruz, the Twins have been a bit wracked by injury and just haven’t been the offensive powerhouse we’ve seen in recent years.
Hopefully, Skubal can keep those two in check and finally put together a consistent performance. The Tigers should be able to put up some runs on Shoemaker, and so a good Skubal outing is likely to produce a lead. Still, with Gregory Soto, Alex Lange, and most of the Tigers better options a bit burnt from the road trip, it’s still going to be scary to watch him hand over a lead to this bullpen right now, but we’ll take it over the non-existent offense we saw for much of April.