A.J. Hinch returns to Houston for the first time since being fired for his role in the cheating scandal.
The Tigers head west of the Mississippi for the first time in 2021 to take on the Houston Astros as the 10-game road trip rolls on. They do so in the midst of a four game losing streak. The offense has been anemic during this stretch, but will have a chance to get on track against — checks notes — one of the better pitchers in the American League in Zack Greinke.
After a fun opening weekend in Detroit, things quickly took a turn for the worst. While the Astros aren’t what they were from 2017-2019 for a multitude of reasons, they still feature an offense that can run you out of a game early, and the Tigers might be doomed tonight if they don’t get a major uptick in production from nearly every spot in the lineup. On the other hand, a Casey Mize matchup with Greinke could be fascinating to watch.
The main storyline this series will be A.J. Hinch’s first return to Houston since being fired for his role in the sign-stealing scandal. With fans back in the stadium, it will be interesting to see the reception that he gets given that he still brought the organization its first World Series title. It will also be interesting to see if he interacts with any of the star players he managed during his tenure including Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman, all of whom were instrumental in the title run.
Detroit Tigers (3-6) at Houston Astros (6-3)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m. EDT, Minute Maid Park
SB Nation site: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Bally Sports Detroit , MLB.TV , Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA)
Casey Mize will make his second start of the season after a solid, albeit brief, first outing against the Minnesota Twins last week. While he threw too many pitches to make it past four innings, he looked much more like the Mize from the end of spring instead of the guy who was routinely getting shelled to start camp. It’s one start so it really doesn’t mean all that much, but there was a nice uptick in his velocity when compared to last season. According to Baseball Savant, his four-seam fastball averaged 96.0 MPH and his sinker averaged 95.1 MPH, both up about 2.5 MPH from 2020. His splitter has been rather hit or miss, while his cutter has emerged as a real weapon for him once again.
As mentioned previously, Houston has a few stars in their lineup who have the ability to make life tough on any opposing pitcher no matter the pedigree. Correa is in a contract year and has gotten off to a good start in 2021 with two home runs and a .983 OPS. Altuve and Bregman are looking to put sub-par 2020s — by their standards — behind them and both have looked more like themselves so far. Yordan Alvarez is also healthy this season, and Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker are going to put together good at bats as well. Facing the lineup that the Astros will run out there will be a tall task for Mize, but if he can get a feel for the strike zone early, he has the arsenal to get it done.
The offense of the Tigers, who face a tall task in any matchup, will try to break out of their slump against Zack Greinke. The former AL Cy Young winner has been around since 2004 and has been good-to-great for most of his career. Greinke has never really been a fire baller, but his four-seam fastball averages between 87-89 MPH these days. Greinke is essentially a crafty lefty in the body of a right-handed-pitcher, and perhaps the smartest pitcher in the game in terms of reading and setting up hitters. A four-pitch pitcher who has a slow curveball that sits around 69 MPH in addition to a changeup, slider, and fastball, he’s going to try and get you out by dancing around the strike zone, inviting you to bite on pitches that will look tantalizing.
Expect to see a heavy left-handed hitting lineup for the Tigers against Greinke, which means we’ll probably see Nomar Mazara, Niko Goodrum, and Akil Baddoo in. So far, none of the lineups that Hinch has gone with have proved very fruitful, but playing to the platoon advantage makes sense against Greinke. Among active hitters for the Tigers, only two have even faced Greinke in their careers in Robbie Grossman (2-11) and Mazara (0-3), so this will largely be new for all parties.
Key Matchup: Tigers offense vs. Greinke
It’s rather simple: you have to score runs to win baseball games. The Tigers are not doing that. The pitching hasn’t been stellar, but the offense isn’t doing anything to ease the pressure on the young arms. Greinke is a tough pitcher to barrel up, but the Tigers shouldn’t be an offense that relies on the long ball to score runs. They do have some athleticism, so the focus needs to be on getting on base through walks and contact. Right now, the Tigers as a team have a K-rate of 27.9 percent and an American League worst .268 OBP.
Home runs are the best, and I’ll never say no them, but this can’t be an all-or-nothing team. Although it hasn’t worked out to this point, the Tigers will need to find ways to scratch a few runs across by hitting more to the situation and forcing the issue a little on the bases.