The Tigers continue to be a heck of a fun team to watch. The blowout of the Texas Rangers on Monday night aside, we’re closing in on three straight months with the Tigers as an above average team. This despite serious weaknesses in the rotation and lineup, and a defensive unit that until recently had to be considered among the game’s worst. It’s worth taking a step back to realize just how remarkable the team’s performance has been.
Now, the Tigers are the hunters rather than the prey in most matchups. Certainly the Rangers felt preyed upon Monday night. With their best starter on the mound, the scuffling Texans were ultimately blown out as the Tigers stretched their post All-Star break streak to four games. It will be Tarik Skubal’s job to make it five in a row on Tuesday night.
The big lefty’s evolution this season has been fascinating. First there were the concerns about his fastball spin rate decline in spring training. With no proven quality secondary offerings, it was hard to see him having lots of success with a diminished heater, and the splitter he developed in the offseason wasn’t getting it done. Instead, he returned to his old circle change on the advice of pitching coach Chris Fetter. Then Skubal was hit very hard in April. And yet somehow, his slider and changeup improved. He started mixing in a pretty nasty overhand curve. The spin never returned, but as his command and velocity started rounding into form, the fastball was very effective anyway, and Skubal began mixing in a sinker to steal strikes and weak contact at the bottom of the zone.
Overall, his performance has remained a mixed bag. He was very good in May and June, but July has not gone well at all through two starts. Perhaps he’s fatiguing a little bit, now well beyond his innings mark in 2020. Either way, the home runs have remained a problem. The White Sox are tough on any pitcher, particularly lefties, and Skubal allowed five runs to them back on July 3. His July 8 outing in Minnesota was undone by defense as much as Skubal’s work, but he did allow two home runs and five runs total, though only three were earned.
The struggling Texas Rangers are a good club for him to get back on a roll against. Knowing that his turn with some innings limitations are coming soon, closing July with three strong outings would really help the Tigers maintain their surprising success in August, when help may arrive for the rotation and bullpen in the form of Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer.
Detroit Tigers (44-51) vs. Texas Rangers (35-59)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m. EDT, Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (5-8, 4.36 ERA) vs. RHP Dane Dunning (3-6, 4.22 ERA)
Game 96 Pitching Matchup
As for Dane Dunning, it’s been a pretty excellent rookie campaign. Dunning’s strikeout and walk rates don’t leap off the page, but combined with his ability to suppress home runs and get over 50 percent of balls in play on the ground, you have a pretty strong recipe for success.
Indeed, Dunning had little trouble with the Tigers in their July 6 matchup in Texas. The Tigers managed just one hit—a Robbie Grossman solo shot—against the young right-hander in that game, striking out six times in five innings of work.
Dunning throws a pretty standard volume of fastballs, registering 54.1 percent heaters so far this season. It’s a quality low 90’s sinker, and plays up a bit do to Dunning’s arm action. He backs it with a quality slider and changeup combination. In short, the type of pitcher that doesn’t look like he’s going to be a problem until you find yourself beating sinkers into the ground while he spots his mix to both sides of the plate.
Key Matchup: Tigers vs. Dunning’s pitch count
The Tigers made a lot of quick outs last time they faced Dunning. He needed just 64 pitches to go five innings. It’s unclear whether or not this might be a short night for him as the Rangers look to manage the rookie’s innings. What is clear, is that the Tigers will have to be more patient and force Dunning to get the ball up in the zone more, where they can do some damage and keep their winning streak alive.