Detroit Tigers fans finally had something to cheer about on Saturday when their beloved baseball team earned its second win in four tries after a brutal dry spell that we really do not want to talk about anymore. After dropping the first of the weekend series at home against the Minnesota Twins, the Motor City Kitties won the second game by a score of 7-3.
The win pulled the Tigers within three games of the Twins at the bottom of the American League Central standings and a victory on Sunday would inch Detroit even closer to the cellar door, as well as earn the team its first series win in what feels like forever. Here is a look at who will be toeing the rubber for both respective teams.
Time/Place: 1:10 pm ET, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (2-3, 2.27 ERA) vs. RHP Kenta Maeda (2-2, 5.34 ERA)
Game 35 Pitching Matchup
Yesterday, Tigers fans got a look at the second-best pitcher on the roster in José Ureña, who effectively — if inefficiently — ate enough innings to give the team a shot at the win. On Sunday, they get treated to Matthew Boyd who, as I have mentioned before, appears to finally be rounding into form after years of lofty — but unmet — expectations. The formula for his rebound so far in 2021 has clearly been the change in focus from strikeouts to pitching to weak contact. While his K rate is the lowest since his debut season in 2015, his walk rate has also reached a career low, which has resulted in a sparkling 2.94 FIP.
The secret to Boyd’s success hinges on his ability to induce weak contact while also getting batters to chase his pitches. His Baseball Savant numbers speak for themselves.
Opposing hitters are batting .202 against him — even keeping in mind that offense around the league has been suppressed, this is still an impressive number that screams for regression — and he has put up a 0.93 WHIP. It is pretty simple logic that if runners are not getting on base and knocking hits, you are going to do well as a pitcher.
For the Twinkies, veteran starter Kenta Maeda takes the mound opposite of Boyd for the final game of the series. The 33-year-old right-hander has struggled a bit this year including a rough two-game patch before his best outing of the season last time out — a scoreless 5 1⁄3 inning start against the Texas Rangers in which he gave up two hits and two walks while striking out eight to earn the win. Long story short, while there is not much to get excited about with the former NPB star, he still finds ways to be effective which is key to remaining in the big leagues.
Maeda features a five-pitch arsenal anchored by his slider which he uses at a 42.6 percent rate, followed by his splitter at 25.8 percent, four-seam fastball at 21.5 percent, sinker at 7.5 percent and curveball at 2.6 percent usage. Amazingly, he has a walk rate in the 80th percentile according to Baseball Savant, and a not-totally-unexpected chase rate in the 77th and whiff rate in the 60th percentile. However, while he previously had elite numbers when it came to avoiding hard hits, those stats have regressed a bit and the former Japanese phenom is now modestly more susceptible. Maybe there is a weakness in his armor that the Tigers can exploit.
Key Matchup: Tigers’ offense vs Maeda
Yesterday’s affair played out somewhat how I had projected, though Ureña was less efficient than in his previous four games. Nonetheless, he helped keep the Twins off the scoreboard until later in the game and gave his team a chance to win in the waning innings — which they finally took advantage of. It is not out of the question that Boyd might stymie the Twinkie bats even more effectively and give the team a chance to win again. If Detroit’s bats can punish Maeda’s mistakes and put up a similar offensive showing as they did on Saturday, Tigers fans will have a lot to celebrate on Sunday afternoon.