Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Sunday’s pitching matchup undoubtedly favors Detroit, but can the Tigers take advantage?
Two weeks down, seven to go. That’s right; this season has only been going for just over two weeks. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?
I am more than aware that some fans will be itching to talk about postseason hopes after the Tigers offense exploded for 28 runs over the past two days, so let’s get this out of our system. Over the past few seasons, “two weeks down” meant that the Tigers were likely sitting somewhere around .500 but would still finish with a record approaching — or, in 2019’s case, well exceeding — 100 losses. But instead, we are roughly one-fifth of the way through the regular season, and the Tigers are the fourth seed in this season’s unusual playoff system.
With two full weeks of the 2020 season complete, here is the current MLB playoff picture
— Devan Fink (@DevanFink) August 9, 2020
First, we must address the obvious: even for 2020, this is a small sample size. The 2018 Detroit Tigers sat with a 36-38 record 74 games through that season’s campaign, and that meant that they were over 45 percent of the way into the season. Detroit is, barring any straight-up cancellations moving forward, 20 percent of the way through this season. If baseball had been using this year’s expanded playoff system in 2018, this would’ve placed them in the eighth and final American League playoff spot at that particular moment. On June 19.
There are a couple of positives we can take from the early going. Detroit is one of ten teams in the American League with a run differential of -5 runs or better (they are currently eighth-best in the American League with a -1 run differential after their offensive explosion the past two days). And with service clocks no longer an issue for the rest of 2020, they may draw on any of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes , or any of their other prized prospects moving forward without losing a year of team control on these players moving forward. But after the Tigers play one more game against the worst team in baseball today (the 3-12 Pittsburgh Pirates ), they move on to face teams that are, on paper, better than them for the rest of the season (with one possible exclusion in the Kansas City Royals ). This means that today very well may be the high point for Detroit’s season. Even worse, they absolutely could lose this one. It’s baseball, after all.
Regardless, it’s hard to deny that the Tigers are playing their most meaningful games since 2016 right now. This team has not been in this position this close to the finish line of the season since they pursued a World Series , and even if we have to slap a massive, bold asterisk on their success, the pipe dream of stumbling into the postseason and facing — *checks standings* — the Oakland Athletics is still there. And if the Tigers are facing Oakland in the postseason, well, we’ve all seen that one before.
Anyways, enough dillydallying. Today, the Tigers face the major-league worst Pittsburgh Pirates.
Detroit Tigers (7-5) at Pittsburgh Pirates (3-11)
Time/Place: 1:35 pm, PNC Park
SB Nation site: Bucs Dugout
Media: Fox Sports Detroit , MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Probables: RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-0, 2.45 ERA) vs. LHP Steven Brault (0-0, 7.20 ERA)
Pirates right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove was scratched from his start due to right ankle soreness, so lefthander Steven Brault will take his place. Brault worked three perfect innings against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field one week ago, but he failed to record an out against Detroit on Friday night in relief. Brault walked three, allowed three hits, and gave up four earned runs in a chaotic 17-13 Tigers victory . Meanwhile, Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull recorded his first win in 19 starts (dating back to last season) against Cincinnati on July 31. He has posted two solid starts to begin the 2020 season after an impressive rookie year in which he posted a 2.9 fWAR in just 148 1⁄3 innings.
Pittsburgh has used 12 pitchers in the past two days, and one of them (righthander Yacksel Rios ) has worked in back-to-back games. More importantly, Brault threw 32 pitches on Friday without recording an out and will be asked to start just two days later. While the Tigers have used 11 pitchers themselves in the past two days (using lefthander Gregory Soto twice), Turnbull is fully rested and should (knock on wood) be able to throw five or six innings. This advantage bodes well for Detroit.
Key Matchup: Spencer Turnbull v. patient Pirates hitting
The Pirates have drawn eight walks over the past two days against Detroit, and they will likely be instructed to take a decent amount of pitches from Turnbull on Sunday. Turnbull has been able to avoid the home run ball throughout his professional career, but he walked nine percent of hitters last season and has an 11.4 percent walk rate through two starts this year after issuing four free passes in his first start against Cincinnati. If Turnbull can control his arsenal reasonably well, he should be primed to rack up a large amount of strikeouts.