Well, just as everyone is wrapping up their think pieces on the imminent firing of Al Avila, AJ Hinch and Chris Fetter pursuing other opportunities, and the utter ruin of the Detroit Tigers franchise, here the club is riding a four game winning streak. Baseball is a funny game. Have they really turned it around? Or is this just some overdue rebalancing of the scales?
Hard to say. The Tigers do have underlying problems, but those problems haven’t really been the things costing them wins. Even over the past four games, the offense hasn’t exactly lit up the scoreboard. Still, there are hints that players like Jonathan Schoop are starting to hit their stride. The offense is the reason they’ve underachieved, but that was due for a natural correction. Sustaining winning through the summer is going to require that the real issue, pitcher injuries, starts to resolve as we near the summer months.
With Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tyler Alexander, and Michael Pineda all injured, as well as relievers Kyle Funkhouser and Jose Cisnero, the club is deep into its young pitching depth already. Fortunately, that depth has been as good as we hoped despite being called on much earlier than we expected. Even so, the Tigers are going to be leaning on last night’s starting pitcher, Alex Faedo, and tonight’s featured attraction, Beau Brieske, a lot harder than they intended in the weeks ahead. However, like Faedo, Brieske has had a tough road to get to this point and seems pretty well prepared mentally to handle the pressure. He’ll face a very tough opponent tonight in Tampa as he goes up against hard-throwing southpaw Shane McClanahan.
Detroit Tigers (13-23) at Tampa Bay Rays (21-15)
Time/Place: 6:40 p.m. EDT, Tropicana Park, St. Petersburg, FL
SB Nation Site: DRaysBays
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.tv, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Beau Brieske (0-2, 3.86 ERA) vs. LHP Shane McClanahan (2-2, 2.52 ERA)
Game 37 Pitching Matchup
To put it mildly, Brieske is going to be outgunned in this one. Still just 14 starts beyond A-ball, the Tigers needs have demanded a faster track than was optimal for a pitcher still searching for a solid, consistent breaking ball. Brieske has managed to avoid taking too much damage and shown the ability to make key pitches when he needs them, but his slider remains decidedly a work in progress, leaving him too predictably a fastball-changeup heavy starting pitcher.
Turning that slider into more of a weapon is currently one of the two main keys to Brieske’s future as a starting pitcher. He also needs to improve his fastball command and develop the ability to pound hitters of either hand inside more effectively. The heater has good plane and good life, but it’s not enough to overcome falling behind in counts and missing down the middle. The Tigers are continuing to work on the slider, trying to find a more effective and comfortable version that he can command consistently, but that may take some time. To deal with the Rays, Brieske really needs to spot strike one and force them to defend the strike zone. If he’s able to manage that, he should do fine despite the ugly strikeout and walk rates to date.
As for his opponent, Shane McClanahan is one of the hardest throwing lefties in the game, and is racking up pretty absurd strikeout numbers. This is less the doing of his 97 mph tailing fourseam fastball, than the fact that the second year southpaw has three good secondary pitches, and only needs to throw the fastball 37 percent of the time. His splitter is nasty, and he packs two quality breaking balls as well, though the low-80’s power curve is doing more of the work. As a result, he’s currently leading all qualified starters in strikeout rate, and all three secondary pitches have a whiff rate over 40 percent. Good luck!
To beat McClanahan, the Tigers are going to need to ambush the fastballs when they get them, and hope his command isn’t as sharp as it’s been in most outings this season. Generally, you only get a few chances to score against him, and the Tigers most likely route to do that, despite the power outage early on, is to get runners on and hope to cash then in via the long ball. Beyond that, it’s hard to see them scratching out more than a run or two.
Key Matchup: McClanahan vs. right-handers
The Tigers will presumably stack the lineup with right-handed hitters today, despite the fact that McClanahan has reverse splits early into his career. That augers well for Daz Cameron and Eric Haase getting into the lineup. The switch-hitters, like Candelario and Grossman, tend to be at least as good at getting on base right-handed. What’s needed is for someone like Javy Báez, Jonathan Schoop, Miguel Cabrera, and Spencer Torkelson doing a little damage.
If they can put some pressure on McClanahan early that would be a good sign, but it’s hard to put together a sustained rally against him when he’s striking out nearly 40 percent of batters faced and issuing few walks. More likely, if the Tigers have success it will be along the lines of a solo shot or an extra base hit with a runner on. A quick outburst, at most. If they can manage that while Brieske keeps the Rays’ somewhat scuffling lineup in check, the bullpen can probably match up decently with the Rays right now.