Tigers vs. Cubs Preview: Can the Tigers win another series? Sunday will tell.

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers amazingly returned to their winning ways after a wild one against the Chicago Cubs in Detroit on Saturday afternoon. The Motor City Kitties ultimately outlasted the north-side Cubbies in extra innings with a 9-8 win to even up the three-game weekend series. José Ureña gave up more than two runs for the first time since his 2021 debut but the bats came alive in support of him, and despite a middle-inning meltdown by Alex Lange, the home team emerged with a gutsy win.

The boys in the Olde English D can win their second-straight series on Sunday if they can find a way to antagonize their opponent’s starting pitcher again, especially since they are sending their ace to the hill. If their starter can work his magic on the mound opposite of a struggling veteran, the Tigers could very well be on their way to winning six of their last seven games — a though unthinkable a little over a week ago.

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. ET, Comerica Park

SB Nation Site: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (2-3, 1.94 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks (2-4, 6.23 ERA)

Game 40 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 41.2 17.9 5.6 2.96 1.3
Hendricks 34.2 18.2 6.1 6.62 -0.5

We say it every time Matthew Boyd takes the mound, but it bears repeating — the veteran lefty has truly come into his own this season. He has given up three runs just once in 2021 and otherwise has held opponents to two runs or less; at no point this year has his ERA exceeded 2.27. He was forced out of a game on April 29 in the second inning against the Chicago White Sox, which Boyd later attributed to left knee tendonitis. He ended up skipping a start but returned on May 11 against the Kansas City Royals and had a fine outing, shutting out the opposition over six frames, allowing four hits while striking out five and walking just two with 92 pitches.

Looking at some of FanGraphs’ numbers, Boyd’s impressive ERA does not quite agree with his FIP, which suggests he is getting lucky — which his BABIP (.244) also suggests, though that number has seen some significant regression recently. His expected ERA (3.41) is also significantly higher than the standard number and his expected FIP (4.89) also disagrees with his actual value. But you cannot help but notice his microscopic home run-to-fly ball ratio (1.9%) as a significant source of his run-prevention abilities.

On the hill for the Cubs is veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who has gotten off to a bit of a rough start to his 2021 campaign after seven quality seasons in Chicago. While he has never posted an ERA greater than 3.95, he has struggled in a few starts — which has bloated Hendricks’ traditional stats — while throwing a few quality starts as well. In fact, his results have oscillated perfectly since his season debut, alternating between duds and gems, respectively. The bad news is that his previous game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 9 was a dud, so if the trend holds strong, that could be bad news for the Tigers.

Digging a little deeper into Baseball Savant’s numbers, the 31-year-old brings in a four-pitch arsenal anchored by his sinker (86.3 mph) which he employs 39.5 percent of the time, followed by a changeup (79.4 mph) that sees usage at a 24.6 percent tick, a four-seam fastball (86.6 mph) at 21.2 percent and a curveball (72.6 mph) at 14.7 percent. The velocity on both his fastballs are down a tick this year but he excels among his peers with his curveball spin (84th percentile), average exit velocity (78th percentile), chase rate (76th percentile), base-on-balls percentage (74th percentile) and hard-hit percentage (66th percentile). He ranks near the bottom in every other category, including fastball spin (1st percentile) and fastball velocity (2nd percentile).

Key Matchup: Tigers bats vs. Kyle Hendricks

So far it looks like Hendricks is a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde on the mound, and depending on which personality the Tigers get, this could be an easy win for or it could be a long day. With their ace starting on Sunday, it is imperative that the Tigers give Boyd some run support — these are the games the team needs to win to crawl out of the American League cellar. Unfortunately, the above-mentioned pattern predicts a solid outing for the Cubs hurler, so Detroit must either buck that trend or succumb to yet another loss.

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