The Tigers will most likely take a talented hitter at the top of the draft.
The 2019 MLB draft is less than two weeks away. While the first two picks of the draft seem set in stone — catcher Adley Rutschman will go first overall, rest assured — everything beyond that is in flux. The Chicago White Sox, who previously seemed locked in to take Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, are exploring other options, including athletic prep shortstop C.J. Abrams and Vanderbilt outfielder J.J. Bleday. The Miami Marlins are also in the mix for both players, along with high school outfielder Riley Greene.
The Detroit Tigers have shown plenty of interest in Greene throughout the spring, but have also scouted the other above players. They have also done their homework on others, including Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop and the top few pitching prospects in the draft. They are currently on a four-year run of taking pitchers in the first round, but that streak seems set to end given the plethora of talented bats available at the top of the draft (not to mention a weak class of pitchers).
That brings us to our Question of the Day:
Who should the Tigers take with their first round pick in this year’s draft?
My answer: I would really like it if the Tigers were able to land Andrew Vaughn. He is one of the best hitters in the entire draft, one capable of hitting for both average and power. Baseball America put him at the top of the list in both categories, and I haven’t read a single report yet that doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that Vaughn will continue to mash all the way through the minor leagues.
Defensively, Vaughn should be a solid first baseman. Scouts believe he is athletic enough to move somewhere more difficult, like third base or a corner outfield spot. However, most believe his bat is so good that moving him to a new position would just slow his ascent to the majors. He runs like a first baseman, but if he turns into the middle-of-the-order thumper everyone is projecting, that won’t matter.
For a farm system so devoid of talented hitters, Vaughn seems like the perfect addition for Detroit this June.
Bark at the Park comes to Comerica, the Tigers can’t hit, Spencer Turnbull for Rookie of the Year, Christin Stewart feels good, plus draft profiles.
The high point of this week so far has been the Detroit Tigers’ Bark at the Park event held Tuesday night, even if the Tigers eventually lost in extra innings. Aside from this pupperific promotion, the Tigers’ skid extended to seven games. Woof!
There is no doubt that the boys with the Olde English D are in the doghouse, and a lot of that has to do with the offense, or lack thereof. While the team has more hitters below the Mendoza line than you can growl at, some of the younger players are looking to break off the chain and take their place as top dogs.
The Tigers are just not hitting
As mentioned in the intro, the Tigers’ hitting has been abysmal this season, with five starters (Jeimer Candelario, recently demoted to Toledo, is one) who are below the infamous Mendoza line — with a sixth hovering just above .200 — and the overall performance at the plate has been at the bottom of the league in almost every category. This article from Forbes takes a look into the numbers.
As of Monday, the Tigers ranked 27th in team batting average and 29th in offensive fWAR, out of a total of 30 teams in Major League Baseball. Funny enough, one of the few teams with a lower team batting average is the Marlins, the current opponent in their home series. Looking at more advanced metrics, the Tigers are 29th in wRC+ with a value of 74, which is 26 percent worse than the MLB average.
In case you’re not familiar with the “Mendoza line” terminology, here is a helpful tutorial that explains it nicely.
While the Tigers’ bats are in a sad state of affairs, the pitching staff still has a couple of bright spots at the top of the rotation. Rookie pitcher Spencer Turnbull is a legitimate candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year award according to MLB.com’s first poll. The red-headed righty came in third, scoring 23.3 percent of the vote but none of the first-place variety.
It is great to see the Red Bull get national notoriety for what has been a surprisingly pleasant breakout season thus far. If he keeps this up, even if he does not take home the hardware, he may prove to be a stabilizing force in an otherwise chaotic starting rotation for the Tigers for the next few years.
Another rookie, Christin Stewart, has not been performing quite as well as his pitching counterpart. After a slow start and a trip to the injured list, he has been having a hard time gaining traction in the big leagues. However, according to this article from the Detroit News, he feels like he is ready to break out of his funk soon.
“It’s weird because I feel good at the plate,” he said. “I’ve been stringing together some long at-bats. Just not getting the results I want, but that’s part of it.”
His strikeout numbers are high — especially since returning from the injured list — and his traditional stats are low, which can be attributed to his current difficulties with the fastball. According to Statcast, he is seeing fastballs around 60 percent of the time, batting 6-for-48 (.125) and slugging .292, with a 31 percent strikeout rate.
Despite his troubles, Stewart still claims that he feels comfortable at the plate, and he has managed to his some balls hard when he makes contact. He added a cliche, “just stick to my routine and trust it,” and noted that he just has to “ride the wave.” Hopefully, the ball starts bouncing his way soon.
First off is Lodolo, a left-handed pitcher out of Texas Christian University who is currently the top-ranked pitcher in the draft; it is unlikely the Tigers will select him and he will probably fall to the number seven slot on June 3. Henry is another lefty hurler who hails from within the state at the University of Michigan who may be an early round option for the Tigers; he could potentially be the highest drafted Michigan baseball player since 2000.
Lastly, there’s second baseman Strumpf from UCLA who wields a plus batting tool. His glove appears to be just marginal at best, though, which could limit where he plays to the right side of the infield. However, the Tigers are in need of some offense-oriented players on the farm, so he could be a solid option in the second round.
Scores, news, and notes from around the Detroit Tigers’ farm system for Tuesday, May 21, 2019.
With the Detroit Tigers mired in a miserable losing streak, and little relief in sight, days like this on the farm system are much needed. Not everything was perfect. But, Tuesday was a fun day around the organization.
Matt Manning looked fantastic and overpowering once again, taking a no-hitter through 5 2⁄3 innings. The 21-year-old has a very strong case as the best pitcher in the Eastern League so far this season. Jake Rogers crunched a monster home run for the Toledo Mud Hens. Kody Clemens hit an opposite field, two-run, walk-off home run for Lakeland, and has really been hot the past two weeks after a rough start. Finally, the West Michigan Whitecaps came back with a walkoff victory of their own.
Tyler Alexander put together a decent performance on Tuesday, but the offense couldn’t get things going. Alexander allowed three runs over five innings and punched out seven on the night. After Alexander exited down two runs, Jake Rogers absolutely clobbered a missile to left-center field for a solo home run to cut the Clippers lead to one. Unfortunately, Zac Houston was a mess in relief once again and is really struggling. He allowed two runs in a long eighth inning to give the Clippers a cushion, and the Hens couldn’t muster a ninth inning rally.
Rogers: 1-3, HR, R, RBI, BB, SO W. Castro: 2-3, 2B, SO Alexander (L, 1-5): 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, BB, 7 SO
Coming up next: Drew VerHagen will make his second start in the Hens’ rotation as the Tigers make a last ditch effort to make use of him as a starter. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. ET.
Matt Manning was nearly unhittable in an electric performance on Tuesday night. Manning took a no-hitter into the sixth but finally surrendered a single with two outs. He mixed easy, well-located heat from 94-97 mph and had his curveball for most of the outing. There were quite a few nasty changeups as well, but he also overthrew several and didn’t lean on it. For six innings, the Yard Goats couldn’t touch him. The seventh began with a soft double down the right field line, but Manning got a lineout to left and then picked up his 10th strikeout before manager Mike Rabelo came out to get him at 96 pitches.
Manning working 92-94 t96 tonight, playing up with good extension, working east-west with ease; CB improving as the game goes, flashing plus the last few; CH is solid; athleticism coming through; consistently impressive overall with drastically improved feel. #Tigers
The offense staked Manning to a two-run lead in the second inning on an RBI double from Cam Gibson and an RBI single from Sergio Alcantara. They managed two more in the eighth, scoring one on a wild pitch, and the second on another RBI hit from Gibson. Joe Navilhon tossed 2 1⁄3 of no-hit relief with three punchouts to close the deal.
Gibson: 2-4, 2B, R, 2 RBI Alcantara: 3-3, R, RBI, SB Azocar: 2-4, 2 R, SO Manning (W, 4-2): 6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, BB, 10 SO
Coming Up Next: Logan Shore gets the start on Wednesday morning at 10:35 a.m. ET.
Tarik Skubal tossed another good game, and after the bullpen blew a slender late lead, it was Kody Clemens to the rescue with a walk-off two-run shot. Skubal didn’t have the strikeout touch on Tuesday, but he went 6 1⁄3 innings, allowing just one run on three hits and a walk. Jason Foley blew the one-run lead in the seventh, but after Nick Ames singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth, it was Clemens mashing an opposite field homer, his fifth of the season, to send the Lakeland faithful home buzzing.
Clemens: 1-4, HR, R, 2 RBI, 2 SO Peterson: 1-3, R Skubal: 6.1 IP, 3 H, ER, BB, 2 SO
Coming up next: The Flying Tigers look for a three-game sweep on Wednesday night at 6:35 p.m. ET.
West Michigan Whitecaps 4, Bowling Green Hot Rods 3 (box)
The Whitecaps’ lineup took advantage of seven walks to scratch out a victory on Tuesday night. Starter Chance Kirby was a little shaky, allowing two runs in the second and one in the fifth, but held up alright in a tough pitching matchup against Matthew Liberatore. It was 3-1 Hot Rods after four, with a Jordan Pearce RBI triple accounting for the Whitecaps’ scoring. But Liberatore got wild in the fifth, eventually walking home Wenceel Perez, though he was able to avoid further damage. Daniel Reyes led off the sixth with a double and scored on a single from Rey Rivera to tie things up.
Meanwhile, Sandel De La Cruz was spinning three excellent frames for the ‘Caps to put them into position to win, and Robbie Welhaf followed with a scoreless ninth. Wenceel Perez drew a one out walk, and took second on an Ulrich Bojarski single. Daniel Reyes stepped to the dish and slapped a grounder up the middle that deflected off second base, allowing Perez to race home with the game winner.
Our friend Dan Hasty was on the call.
When your team is trying to break a five-game losing streak, you desperately need a bounce in your favor.
The Detroit Tigers saw their losing streak stretch to seven games (officially) on Tuesday, as they lost a 5-4 decision to the Miami Marlins in 11 innings at Comerica Park. Catcher Chad Wallach drove in Miguel Rojas in the top of the 11th for the Marlins’ game-winning run.
The Marlins jumped on Spencer Turnbull early, with three hits and a run in the top of the first inning. Curtis Granderson singled just two pitches into the game, and moved from first to third on a seeing-eye single from right fielder Garrett Cooper. Brian Anderson scored Granderson via a sacrifice fly to give the Marlins a 1-0 lead. Turnbull allowed another sharp single in the inning, but escaped the jam when Jorge Alfaro lined out sharply to right.
Miami doubled their lead in the second with more sharp contact against a not-so-sharp Turnbull. Rookie Harold Ramirez singled up the middle to lead off the inning, and scored when catcher Chad Wallach hit a double to the right-center field wall. Turnbull then walked Granderson, putting himself into another jam, but escaped when Cooper hit into an inning-ending double play.
a run back in the bottom of the third thanks to JaCoby Jones, who hit his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot to right field. Ramirez answered in the top of the fourth with an opposite field shot of his own, the first homer of his MLB career.
Detroit cut the Marlins’ lead in half again in the bottom of the fourth. Nicholas Castellanos doubled to left with one out, and advanced to third base on a wild pitch by Marlins starter Caleb Smith. Miguel Cabrera battled his way to a full count, and ended a seven-pitch at-bat by lining a pitch to left to score Castellanos, cutting Miami’s lead to 3-2.
Things got more fun after that — both starters turned the game over to awful bullpens after just five innings apiece — but it took a little while. Brian Anderson homered off lefthander Nick Ramirez in the top of the seventh to stretch the lead to 4-2, Marlins.
The Tigers didn’t manage a single hit against Miami’s middle relief corps, but engineered a comeback against closer Sergio Romo and the Marlins defense in the ninth. Niko Goodrum reached base on an infield single, then advanced to second when Starlin Castro couldn’t handle a wide throw from Brian Anderson. Goodrum then came around to score after a Cabrera grounder glanced off of Anderson’s glove, bringing the Tigers within one. Castellanos, who had gone from first to third on Cabrera’s single, scored on a sacrifice fly that came out of left fielder Harold Ramirez’s glove, but just after he had established control of the ball (imagine that, a catch rule that makes sense).
The Tigers couldn’t plate a third run in the ninth, though, and the bats fell quiet again from there. After Shane Greene pitched a 1-2-3 10th, Wallach doubled off the left-center wall in the 11th — his second 400-plus foot double of the night — to score Rojas, and Marlins reliever Brian Anderson worked a scoreless bottom half of the inning to close out the game.
The Tigers struck out 15 times against Marlins pitching in this game. It was the 18th time this season they have fanned at least 11 times as a club, tied for the second-most among MLB teams. They have struck out 11 or more times in nearly 40 percent of their games played in 2019.
Good afternoon Bless You Boys readers! It’s Tuesday, and that means the intrepid duo of Brandon and Ashley will be recording the regular weekly Bless You Boys podcast this evening.
We are looking to you guys to help shape the content this week. Do you have topic requests? Any pressing questions you want us to answer? We don’t want to get bogged down in pouting about losing every game played in a week, or Miggy’s flagging power, but we WILL unless you give us different options.
Ask us anything Tigers-related, though in previous question requests, demands of good recipes have been answered honestly.
We also ask them about Granderson, Jeter, and sadly remind them of their record.
There were very few teams in the 2019 season projected to do worse than the Detroit Tigers, and the Miami Marlins happen to be one of them. The team’s current 13-31 record is... not great. They sold off their top stars and brought in a future Hall of Famer as their owner, all in the hope of shaking things up for a rebuild.
So we wanted to know how another rebuilding club was doing, especially under new ownership.
We asked Ely Sussman, managing editor of the SB Nation Marlin’s blog Fish Stripes to tell us more about this 2019 club, and if a certain former Tigers outfielder might be available as a trade target.
BYB: I want to know from both a fan’s perspective AND as someone who writes about the team: how do you feel about the ownership change now that there’s been more than a season to observe it in action?
ES: It’s always important to remind oneself how dire the situation was that new Marlins ownership stepped into. Jeffrey Loria somehow managed to operate the franchise at a financial loss and alienate the fanbase during a period when Major League Baseball is widely profitable and South Florida was desperate for a relevant sports franchise. Derek Jeter and his group have turned the page in a very literal sense: trading all of Loria’s best players and dismissing countless employees from the front office and marketing departments. Although investment in the major league payroll has dramatically reduced, they reallocated a large chunk of that toward ballpark renovations, rebranding, international player development and scouting, and a bold education initiative that covers both language and life skills.
No doubt, the Marlins have a better chance at being sustainably competitive under new leadership. However, the loudest voices in baseball operations (Michael Hill and Gary Denbo) bring an old-school approach. I’m skeptical of whether the rebuild will be successful without an increased emphasis on the analytics being utilized by their competition.
The Marlins were predicted to be one of the three worst teams in baseball this season and currently (sorry) have the worst record in baseball. Do you think the current standings are a fair representation of what the team has to offer, or just a lot of early season bad luck?
I had the Marlins projected for a 65-97 record. Pretty bad! But even amid the super-low expectations, their first quarter of the season was disappointing. With so many home games, short flights and near-perfect health, they were poised to get off to a decent start...and didn’t. Destined for a last-place finish in the NL East regardless, the fanbase is focused on young potential building blocks rather than overall performance, and that’s been the silver lining. Guys like Pablo López and Brian Anderson are not getting ideal results, but their peripherals and 2018 rookie campaigns provide encouragement. Jorge Alfaro is fun, too.
How well do you think the Marlins are going to do this season overall?
My revised projection is 61-101. Sorry to disappoint the national media, but this will be a run-of-the-mill terrible team, not a historically inept one. The offense is bad (even once adjusted for ballpark factors). That being said, in the event of injury or veteran trades, the Triple-A affiliate is well-stocked with interesting players who I expect will serve as upgrades over what we’ve seen thus far.
Caleb Smith is legit—easily the best player on the Marlins and their most effective starting pitcher since José Fernández. His velocity is ordinary, but his ability to command all three pitches (fastball, slider, changeup) is special. KKKKKKKaleb has the confidence to throw them over the plate, which was lacking at the very beginning of his big league career. More so than anybody else on the staff, he seems to be reaping the benefits of working with new pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.
Do you miss the home run sculpture?
No. Sooooooo gimmicky. To be clear, the sculpture is being reassembled next year on the plaza outside the ballpark. The space where it used to reside has been filled by a low-cost party/group sales section for fans.
Who would you consider to be the team’s most below the radar star, that most baseball fans might not be aware of?
6. I have some concerns about his durability, but right-hander Pablo López has all the ingredients of an excellent starter. Fastball sits 93-95 and tops out at 97, filthy movement on the changeup, two quality breaking balls and good command of everything. He’s the youngest player on the Marlins active roster while being one of their most mature and marketable. Combining López with Smith and Marlins No. 1 prospect Sixto Sánchez is the foundation for perhaps the best rotation in franchise history.
Can you wait ‘til September? As I’m sure you know, Granderson is the ultimate MLB ambassador and positive clubhouse influence. The Marlins needed that. Also, he has often batted leadoff(!) for this lifeless lineup. Signing him was such a low-risk, smart move. But he’ll be riding the bench down the stretch once Lewis Brinson gets straightened out and dynamic outfield prospect Monte Harrison earns a call-up.
Thanks so much to Ely for taking the time to answer our questions and share in our rebuild misery. You can read more of his work on the Marlins over at Fish Stripes.
Lodolo is widely projected to go seventh overall, but the Tigers could still opt for an arm.
The Detroit Tigers love taking talented pitchers at the top of the MLB draft (and also in later rounds, for that matter). But with one of the weakest classes of arms in recent years on deck for the 2019 draft, it appears that Detroit’s four-year streak of taking a pitcher in the first round is in serious jeopardy. Not one of the several mock drafts published at MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, or Baseball America this spring has projected the Tigers to take a pitcher, instead focusing on a sextet of talented hitting prospects expected to go in the top six picks.
But would it really surprise anyone if the Tigers took a pitcher? They would get their pick of any arm in the draft class — something that may appeal to Detroit’s brass, given their previous predilection for taking pitchers early and often on draft day — and might convince one to sign an under-slot deal in the process. The Tigers were previously linked, albeit briefly, with righthander Alek Manoah, a giant of a pitcher at West Virginia who checks every box in the “typical Tigers pitching prospect” profile.
But why take him when you can get the best of the bunch? TCU lefthander Nick Lodolo has moved ahead of the pack as the consensus top pitcher in this year’s class, and is the No. 7 pick on most draft boards at this point, following the aforementioned top six prospects in the class. He has had a dominant season with the Horned Frogs, posting a 2.18 ERA while striking out over 11 batters per nine innings, and could have as many as three plus pitches if everything works out.
Would the Tigers move away from the top bats in the class and take him? I have my doubts, but you can never be sure what will happen on draft night. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at what Lodolo offers.
Lodolo has a lanky, projectable frame that helps him deliver his low-to-mid 90s fastball “on a steep downhill plane.” MLB Pipeline notes that Lodolo has worked his fastball from 90 to 94 miles per hour this year, topping out at 96 mph, while Baseball America projects his peak velocity around 94-95 mph. His arm angle is more three-quarters than over-the-top, but it still projects as an above-average pitch, per Pipeline.
Improvements in Lodolo’s control and command this year have helped the fastball (and other offerings) play up a bit. He has walked just 19 batters in 91 innings this season, down from 28 walks in 77 frames (3.32 walks per nine) during his sophomore year. Pipeline notes that the improved command comes from a more consistent arm slot, something that can be difficult for a lanky starter like Lodolo. Baseball America is equally optimistic about Lodolo’s potential to maintain these improvements, and thinks there could be even more in the tank than what we have seen so far.
Lodolo’s stuff isn’t quite as loud as the typical top college starter of a draft class, but he is a high-probability major leaguer with above-average control of three pitches that are current average offerings but could be plus pitches in the future. He still has more projection than the typical three-year collegiate arm thanks to a lean body that can add more weight, and he was one of the best performers in the country through his first seven starts of the season before hitting a slight speed bump in April.
Both Baseball America and FanGraphs note that Lodolo could have three plus pitches at his peak. The breaking ball is his primary off-speed pitch, but it is currently a “sweepy” offering “that flashes the makings of a plus pitch but needs more consistency.” It has been called both a slider and curveball, but Pipeline distinguishes between the two in their evaluation of Lodolo, the No. 8 prospect on their board.
He showed inconsistent feel for spinning a curveball in the past and is focusing instead on a tighter slider in the low 80s that has become a solid offering. He also sells his changeup well and it has good action at the plate, giving him three pitches that all can grade as plus at their best.
Lodolo hasn’t used the changeup as often this year, per Baseball America, but most evaluators are in lockstep regarding its potential going forward.
If there’s a true weakness to be found here, it’s that Lodolo doesn’t offer the upside one might hope the Tigers could get from a No. 5 overall pick. Baseball America projects him as “a middle-of-the-rotation starter more than a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors,” and others seem to feel the same way. Were he a potential top-end guy, he would be getting more top-five buzz; aside from a couple of throwaway projections in one mock draft, almost no one project him to go before seventh overall.
Part of what hurts Lodolo’s stock, even with some projection left on his frame, is that he showed very little progress during his first two years at TCU. Lodolo was a supplemental round pick in the 2016 draft, but did not sign. He has been a three-year starter for the Horned Frogs, but put up ERAs of 4.35 and 4.32 in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively. His aforementioned walk rate was good, but not great, and opponents were able to square him up for about a hit per inning. His secondary offerings flashed plus at times, but were (and still are, to a certain extent) inconsistent pitches that needed more reps.
Concerns about Lodolo’s recent performance appear to be overblown, though. He was rocked for seven runs in five innings against Kansas State back in April, but has bagged 33 strikeouts in his last three starts, all while allowing just five runs across 20 innings pitched.
Draft position: top 10, and probably No. 7
Pick a mock draft. No matter where you go — FanGraphs, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, you name it — Lodolo is mocked to the Cincinnati Reds at No. 7 overall. This makes sense, as he falls just behind the top six prospects in this year’s draft, and the Reds have been more than happy to take top college talents during their current rebuild. While Lodolo is the first pitcher of the group (Nick Senzel and Jonathan India were standout hitters taken in the previous two drafts), there is too much consensus here to assume otherwise. Baseball America notes that Cincinnati could go in a different direction given Lodolo’s struggles down the stretch, but it’s tough to see him falling much further than this on June 3.
Nick Lodolo (3-1-2019) vs Univ. of Houston at the Shiners College Classic (Houston, TX). - YouTube
The Tigers, who are on a six — well, kind of seven, but let’s take it easy — game losing streak, are hosting the Miami Marlins, who are actually on a three-game tear after suffering a seven-game skid of their own. Detroit’s -91 run differential is the second-worst in baseball, and worse than Miami’s -89 despite the Marlins sitting five games worse than their mid-week opponent in the standings.
While Tuesday’s starting pitching matchup is intriguing, there isn’t much else to this game. Both teams trot out bad offenses, bad bullpens and unspectacular defenses. Neither Miami nor Detroit has a player with over 20 RBI on the season, and both clubs are the only teams that fall within that category. The Marlins’ bullpen ERA ranks 26th in baseball at 5.35, while Detroit’s is 28th at 5.67. Both teams rank at or near the bottom of their respective leagues in most advanced metrics.
At least game one of this three-game series will feature a couple pitchers who are off to solid starts in 2019: Spencer Turnbull and Caleb Smith.
We’ll start with the one you know less about. Smith is a 27-year-old lefthander who has spent most of his MLB career with the Marlins after being traded by the Yankees for Mike King in 2017. Smith has never posted an ERA under 4.10 at the highest level (in limited action), but is currently off to a strong start, striking out 64 batters while issuing only 14 walks in 48 innings en route to a 2.25 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He has served as the staff ace so far — whatever that may mean for a 13-31 team.
The Marlins acquired him that winter and unlocked some serious strikeout potential, as Smith fanned 88 batters in 77 1⁄3 innings with the Fish last season. He has been even tougher to square up in 2019, holding opponents to a 2.25 ERA while striking out 35.2 percent of the batters he faces. Better yet, his walk rate has taken a big step forward after being something of a hindrance last year.
Turnbull should prove a worthy opponent opposite Smith despite his lesser numbers and back-to-back bumpy starts. The Marlins appear to be a favorable matchup for the talented righthander, as his issues with walks may be a non-factor against a Miami lineup that does not draw many of their own.
Whether he is hustling or not, Miguel Cabrera has been the only hitter in Detroit’s lineup who has actually hit the ball this past week. He is batting .333/.440/.429 in his last seven games, and has predictably performed best against lefties in 2019; his only home run has come against a southpaw to go with a .381/.519/.619 line. Issues with fastballs aside — Smith’s heater shouldn’t be enough to bother him — if anyone is going to break the Tigers’ skid against a more-than-beatable team, it will have to be the big man.
Tigers and Marlins fans alike will be wondering who exactly is on the other team in a three-game mid-week series.
If you take a look at the Miami Marlins’ roster tomorrow and don’t recognize many names, you won’t be alone. The Marlins dove headfirst into yet another rebuild when they traded Giancarlo Stanton and Marcell Ozuna in the same week in December 2017, and future National League MVP Christian Yelich just a month later. We can debate the merits of such an endeavor elsewhere, but the result is crystal clear; this is one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball.
Of course, Marlins fans will be saying nearly the exact same things about the Tigers’ 2019 roster. Sure, Miguel Cabrera is still around, and they will recognize Jordan Zimmermann from his days as their division rival, but the Tigers have also endured plenty of roster turnover since trading away talented veterans like J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. Neither team is all that recognizable at this point, especially since this is the first time the two clubs have squared off since 2016.
It comes as little surprise that the Marlins are one of the worst teams in baseball this year, considering the lack of big league talent and experience on their major league roster. They find themselves in a similar spot as the Tigers, both on the stat sheet — the statistical breakdown above is surprisingly similar — and in the clubhouse. Detroit has a few more high-paid veterans, but both clubs are sifting through several different prospects, retreads, and minor league free agents to find useful players for the future, or trade bait for the July deadline.
Also like the Tigers, Miami’s veterans have provided precious little in on-field production this season. Neil Walker has put together some solid numbers at the plate so far, but Starlin Castro, Martin Prado, and Curtis Granderson have all been below replacement level. The same goes for veteran arms like Wei-Yin Chen — who has been worse than Jordan Zimmermann, per ERA+, since they signed their five-year deals — and Sergio Romo.
The youth has yet to arrive in Miami as well. Lewis Brinson, 25, was their Opening Day center fielder, but was optioned to the minors in late April because of a brutal performance to open the season. Harold Ramirez is the only position player under 26 on the active roster, and has gotten off to a quiet start in his first week in the majors. Catcher Jorge Alfaro is the headliner on Miami’s major league roster, along with 23-year-old righthander Sandy Alcantara (who the Tigers will not face in the series).
Game times, TV listings, streaming info, etc.
Game 1: Tuesday, May 21, 7:10 p.m. Game 2: Wednesday, May 22, 7:10 p.m. Game 3: Thursday, May 23, 1:10 p.m. Venue: Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich. SB Nation site:Fish Stripes Media (all games): Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Marlins skipper Don Mattingly has done a lot of toying with his lineups this year, especially recently, making the above batting order little more than a wild guess. Center fielder Jon Berti has moved up to the leadoff spot recently, batting there in three of Miami’s last five games. Assuming the oblique strain that pulled him out of Sunday’s lineup isn’t serious, he will likely bat first against Detroit’s lefties, and could slot in there against righthander Spencer Turnbull on Tuesday as well. Curtis Granderson — I know him! — has been the Marlins’ regular leadoff hitter, and could also bat there against Turnbull. If Berti is out, utility man Rosell Herrera is the likely fill-in, though further down the batting order.
I feel a bit more confident in predicting the next few spots. Right fielder Garrett Cooper hit second in all three games against the New York Mets last weekend, followed by Brian Anderson. Veteran Neil Walker hasn’t started a game against a left-handed pitcher this year, so expect guys like Starlin Castro and Martin Prado to move up in the order for the final two games of the series. Prado and Walker were the designated hitters in Miami’s two previous games in an American League park this year, so it’s possible they both find their way into the lineup.
The bottom of the order is a complete shot in the dark. Jorge Alfaro left Saturday’s game with a calf injury, but Mattingly said Alfaro “looked pretty good” in a later update, so expect him to catch at least a couple games in this series. Rookie Harold Ramirez has split time with Granderson in left field since making his MLB debut last week — read up on Ramirez here, courtesy of our friends at Fish Stripes — and should start against both lefties. Miguel Rojas will be penciled in somewhere; he has started all but one of the Marlins’ games at shortstop since April 15.
Lefthander Caleb Smith is already a success story. Draft in the 14th round out of Sam Houston State — a school that has produced just four big leaguers since former Tiger Steve Sparks was around — Smith was a longshot just to reach the big leagues. He went to the Cubs for a hot second after the 2016 Rule 5 draft, but made his big league debut with the New York Yankees in 2017, throwing 18 2⁄3 replacement level innings. The Marlins acquired him that winter and unlocked some serious strikeout potential, as Smith fanned 88 batters in 77 1⁄3 innings with the Fish last season. He has been even tougher to square up in 2019, holding opponents to a 2.25 ERA while striking out 35.2 percent of the batters he faces. Better yet, his walk rate has taken a big step forward after being something of a hindrance last year.
José Ureña is the Marlins’ staff veteran, having been around since he made his major league debut with the club in 2015. He didn’t become a full-time starter until 2017, though, when he posted a 3.82 ERA with spotty peripheral numbers across 169 2⁄3 innings. He threw a career-high 174 frames for the Marlins last year and improved his advanced metrics, including lower walk and home run rates. Now a bit more of a two-pitch pitcher — he hasn’t featured the changeup quite as often in 2019 — Ureña has pushed his ground ball rate north of 50 percent for the first time. He was better against righties than lefties last year, which could make him a tough matchup for Detroit’s lineup.
Trevor Richards’s rookie season told us one very important thing: he has an incredible changeup. Batters chased it out of the zone at an astonishing 52.5% of the time, whiffed at the pitch at a 24% clip, and held batters to a .166 BAA in over 700 thrown. It’s as legit of a secondary pitch as you’ll find. We often say to ‘trust a pitch, not the pitcher,’ though the same concept could apply to avoid Richards for his horrid four-seamer, a fastball that allowed a .927 OPS across 1200 thrown in 2018.
Richards is throwing the fastball less frequently in 2019, instead relying more on a slider that generates a lot of fly balls. I’m not sure how much I like that strategy, as sliders that end up in the air tend to go a long way. Richards seems to be learning that the hard way this year; his home run rate is up to 1.66 per nine innings, and he has allowed multiple homers in four of his last five starts. The slider isn’t the culprit, though. Four of the nine homers he has given up this season have come off the changeup.
What we’re rooting for: a dang win
Enough is enough. The Tigers have gone a full week without winning a game before, even when they were good, but rarely have they looked so overmatched and outclassed since this website was in existence. They have been outscored 50 to 12 in the six losses (55 to 15 if you count Sunday’s suspended game), which accounts for over 40 percent of their -88 run differential on the season.
Luckily, their opponent has arguably been even worse. Not only do the Marlins have baseball’s worst record at 13-31, but they also have the worst first-order (.269) and third-order win percentages (.273) of any club in Major League Baseball. Both teams are at or near the bottom of their respective leagues in Wins Above Replacement, but the Tigers have been nearly three wins better than Miami — roughly the same difference as between them and Chicago, at 12th. Plus, the Tigers have been relatively solid when playing other bad teams; they have a 10-8 record against clubs under .500 on the year, and were above .500 at home prior to last week’s meltdown.
But enough searching for a silver lining. Just end the streak, please.