Series Preview: Detroit Tigers head to Tampa Bay to face Rays for 3-game set

Bless You Boys

The Detroit Tigers emerged from the weekend victoriously against the Minnesota Twins, from whom they took two out of three at Target Field to bounce back from a series loss at home to the Texas Rangers last week. AJ Hinch’s squad heads south to the Sunshine State for its next opponent.

The Tampa Bay Rays host the Motor City Kitties for a three-game set starting on Monday, holding a near-.500 record not dissimilar to the visitors’. The Sunshine Boys are dead even in their last 10 games, going 5-5 but dropping their last series at the New York Yankees, two games to one.

It should be an interesting matchup between the two teams in Tampa Bay, including an old friend who is struggling in his new surroundings.

Detroit Tigers (12-10) at Tampa Bay Rays (12-11)

Times (ET): Monday: 6:50 p.m.; Tuesday: 6:50 p.m.; Wednesday: 6:50 p.m.
Place: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburgh, Florida
SB Nation Site: DRaysBay
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Game 23 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Skubal 23.2 28.3 5.4 2.87 0.6
Littell 21.0 24.7 5.6 2.44 0.7

Game 23: LHP Tarik Skubal (2-0, 2.28 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Littell (1-0, 2.14 ERA)

Skubal’s first four starts of the 2024 campaign have been oscillating between absolute gems on one end and, well, not terrible but not exactly the best we have seen from the 27-year-old. The lefty’s last start was another nadir, though he did manage to record a quality start after tossing 6 13 innings of four-run ball (two earned) on five hits and a walk while striking out six in a team loss against the Rangers.

Littell represents the second half of what could be a pitcher’s duel on Monday night, bringing his own Skubal-esque numbers into play. The 28-year-old has not quite performed up to the level of his debut in the last three starts, however, gradually declining while also failing to reach the six-inning mark. He gave up three runs on eight hits (one home run) but no walks and seven strikeouts over 5 23 innings in a team loss to the Los Angeles Angels his last time out.

Game 24 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Maeda 17.2 15.0 8.8 8.36 -0.5
Pepiot 22.2 30.7 9.1 3.60 0.4

Game 24: RHP Kenta Maeda (0-1, 7.64 ERA) vs. RHP Ryan Pepiot (2-2, 4.37 ERA)

Maeda’s molasses-like start this season for the Tigers already has the fanbase moaning and groaning over his lackluster performances, but it is worth reminding that he has historically started slow. The 36-year-old’s overall numbers are just awful so far, including a weighted OBA of .441 (bottom 4% of the league) and an expected SLG of .547 (bottom 7% of the league). His quality start against Minnesota a couple of weeks ago does give hope for a positive regression… just hopefully it will happen soon.

Pepiot is off to a strong start to his third major league season and first in Tampa Bay, despite a rough debut against Texas to open things up. The 26-year-old logged a pair of quality starts over the next three outings that bookend another not-so-great appearance; much like Skubal, he appears to be yo-yo-ing a bit from start to start and the good news is that he is due for a slip-up Tuesday evening. The righty is ostensibly a three-pitch hurler, offering a four-seam fastball (84.4 mph, 52.9%), slider (88.4 mph, 28.2%) and changeup (86.4 mph, 18.4%), with a very rarely thrown curveball (80.8 mph, 0.5%).

Game 25 Pitching Matchup

Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Player IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Flaherty 24.1 29.1 3.9 3.74 0.4
Alexander 20.2 17.8 6.7 5.82 -0.2

Game 25: RHP Jack Flaherty (0-1, 4.44 ERA) vs. LHP Tyler Alexander (1-0, 4.79 ERA)

Flaherty has been pleasantly effective thus far in his Tigers tenure, putting up very solid numbers both on the traditional side as well as his peripherals. The 28-year-old — now in his eighth major league campaign — has gone six innings in all four of his starts, recording quality starts in three of them as well as team wins in three of his four appearances. The run value on his breaking pitch is absolutely elite, registering in the 99th percentile per Baseball Savant, while his whiff% (94th), BB% (88th) and K% (82nd) are also upper-tier.

Alexander is a familiar face for the Tigers faithful having spent the first five seasons of his big league career in Detroit. The 29-year-old crafty lefty, often dubbed as “Todd the Painter” during his days in the D, has not looked good in his opening act with the Rays particularly due to his high home run rate (2.2 per nine innings) and overweight WHIP (1.36). However, in his last outing at the Yankees, he managed to throw 5 13 scoreless frames, allowing two hits and a walk — but most importantly — zero home runs.

Series Outlook: A winnable series for the Tigers

Just looking at the pitching matchups, Monday night’s opener could go either way while Tuesday’s slate seems to favor the Rays heavily. But then on Wednesday, the Tigers will have a chance to face an old friend who should be beatable. Of course, baseball being baseball, Alexander will probably throw a no-hitter against Detroit, but realistically the Olde English D has a good chance in this series. The Tigers are 8-3 away from the friendly confines of Comerica Park, so there is some good road mojo they need to take advantage of as well.

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