Game 69 preview: Tarik Skubal versus Michael Wacha is a nice matchup for avoiding a sweep

Bless You Boys

Well, the team looks better, but the winning percentage isn’t changing. After a bit of a tough loss on Tuesday, the Tigers are in danger of being swept in Boston. This would be a less than ideal way to start off a three city road trip. Fortunately, the Tigers have the better pitcher on the mound tonight. That’s no guarantee of anything, and Tarik Skubal has struggled a bit recently, but he’s still developing into one of the better young starters in the game. Go win this thing, Tigers.

Despite the two losses, it’s been a solid couple of days for the broader picture in Detroit. Chris Fetter decided to take his name out of the running for the Michigan head coaching position vacated by Erik Bakich last week. In the process, via Ken Rosenthal’s piece on the sputtering Tigers’ “rebuild” today, we also learned that A.J. Hinch has a five-year contract with no opt-out after this season, contradicting Lynn Henning of The Detroit News, who reported that he had the opt-out last spring.

So that’s a relief. I’d be interested to know who leaked the full terms to Rosenthal, and where Henning got this misguided notion. Either way, what this means is that the braintrust in the dugout should remain intact for a while. As for the front office? Well, apart from a bit of credit for starting to clean up six years of mistakes with his overhaul of the player development system late last summer and into the fall, the focus has to be squarely on Al Avila now. The players have to perform to their level, but after seven years, the track record is just nowhere near good enough for the Tigers’ GM to get any benefit of the doubt. Rosenthal may be a little late to the party, but he makes the case pretty well too.

Does any of it matter? Probably not. Hard to see Chris Ilitch doing anything decisive in any way.

As the 2022 draft and trade deadline start to appear over the horizon, we’re going to have much to discuss in terms of the big picture. For right now, the Tigers need to pick up a victory today with Skubal on the mound before heading to Arizona and San Francisco to close out the month before returning to Detroit. Most of July will then consist of AL Central showdowns.

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m. EDT/Fenway Park, Boston, MA

SB Nation Site: Over the Monster

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

Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (5-4, 3.13 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Wacha (5-1, 2.28 ERA)

Game 69 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Skubal 74.2 2.48 26.7 4.7 0.6 2.3
Wacha 59.1 3.97 17.4 7.2 0.91 0.8

This isn’t the first time the Tigers have seen Michael Wacha this year. They won 3-1 way back on April 11 —wow, we were so young and hopeful then — behind a strong six shutout innings from Matt Manning. Still, they didn’t do much against Wacha himself, pushing across just one run after loading the bases in the first inning. That was it. In fact, no one is having much luck against the veteran journeyman this season.

Despite an extremely low strikeout rate, Wacha has been incredibly tough through 11 starts. He’s cut his fastball usage down the past two seasons, throwing more cutters and changeups, while mixing in some sinkers instead of sticking with just the fourseamer. So far it’s worked like a charm as he’s limited home runs, and avoided too much hard contact. It seems like a house of cards, but the Tigers aren’t necessarily going to be one of the teams to expose him.

For some reason though, I just feel like this will be Riley Greene’s breakout game in the power department, so I’ll predict a victory. Greene is already moving up in the world, hitting second in the order tonight. With a perked up Javy Báez hitting behind him, the rookie center fielder should be in the thick of the offensive action in this one.

For his part, Skubal’s stuff continues to look superb, but the last two starts have been marred by shoddy command. To handle a tough Red Sox lineup, the lefty has to get back to spotting the fastball and slider on the inner edge to right-handers. He was dialed in most of the season, but the last two starts have seen him out of sync more often and leaving pitches intended to jam right-handers out over the plate.

If he’s got that sorted, look for Skubal to handle the Red Sox without a whole lot of trouble.

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