Preseason analysis on the Detroit Tigers did not give them a particularly good chance of being a playoff team. Still, they were a popular candidate for a sleeper, as a roughly average team with some good young talent who could improve as the season progressed and potentially push them over the top into a wild card spot. However, even those hopes were predicated on getting out to a solid start in the first quarter of the season. Instead, they’re following the 2021 Tigers’ script early on, playing sloppy baseball and struggling to hit. They should be thankful that, other than the Minnesota Twins, the whole AL Central division has been a debacle thus far.
So, with a 6-11 record, the Tigers are still within a game of three of their four Central rivals. However, the bleeding obviously cannot go on like this much longer. On a four game losing skid, the club needs to find some mojo before heading out to LA for three with the Dodgers this weekend. If they don’t, then they’ll be well on their way to digging the type of early hole they couldn’t overcome last year.
They have the right pitcher on the mound, as lefty Tarik Skubal is off to an excellent start. But the pitching has decidedly not been the issue to date.
Detroit Tigers (6-11) at Minnesota Twins (10-8)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m. EDT/Target Field, Minneapolis, MM
SB Nation Site: Twinkie Town
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.tv, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (1-1, 2.30 ERA) vs. RHP Bailey Ober (1-1, 2.81 ERA)
Entering his second full season, Skubal has established himself as a quality major league starter, but still was too vulnerable to the long ball to be a consistent in his first two seasons. With some changes in approach, and apparently the baseball, Skubal is set up for a really nice year.
The 25-year-old lefty continues to rack up the strikeouts and so far he’s issued just one walk with zero home runs allowed. Right now, the numbers are Cy Young caliber, but the contact will get harder. The test is going to come as hitters settle in, the weather warms up, and the ball starts flying a little better. Still the Tigers have to be very pleased with what they’re seeing.
Skubal’s stuff is basically the same as last season, but he’s diversified his pitch mix a bit by throwing more sinkers. He’s throwing less first pitch strikes overall so far, but after giving up a lot of first pitch homers last year, that’s somewhat sensible. More importantly, he’s using the slider first pitch a more often, learning to use it a little more to steal called strikes early in counts and making his approach much less predictable. He also just hasn’t grooved many fastballs down the middle, which was a key problem in 2021 when he allowed a fairly gruesome 2.11 home runs per nine innings. Hopefully he can continue to command his stuff and keep hitters guessing more. He’ll have a good test in the Twins.
As for Bailey Ober, the 6-foot-9 right-hander pitches rather like former outsized teammate and current Tiger, Michael Pineda. Averaging around 92 mph with his fourseamer, Ober commands a solid four-pitch mix well enough to give hitters headaches. He rarely issues a walk, and uses his changeup and slider well to get opposing batters off balance and whiffing, or lofting routine fly balls around the park. He will give up some homers, but overall he makes an opposing offense string together hits and earn their runs.
Ober is the type of starter that can really frustrate a team that’s pressing at the plate.
Key Matchup: The Tigers bats vs. themselves
There’s not a whole lot to say right now. The Tigers scored their share of runs against Bailey Ober in two starts last year, but the stars of the show were Niko Goodrum and Zack Short. The current club is floundering offensively. Derek Hill homered off of Ober last August, so you can probably expect to see him starting in center field with Akil Baddoo struggling. Frankly we don’t care who does what. Hit the ball. Score the runs. Win the game, Tigers.