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ON DECK: Slumping Tigers head north of the border for series with Blue Jays

The Detroit Tigers just cannot seem to get out of their own way right now. Following a four-game sweep at home at the hands of a scrappy Oakland Athletics bunch, Detroit has now lost a season-high nine games, the longest such streak since September of last season.

One cannot really pinpoint one phase of the game that has resulted in their recent struggles, it is a little bit of everything. Detroit is hitting just .213 as a team, with a .583 OPS during their losing skid, averaging over seven runners left on base per contest. On the mound, the team is posting an ERA close to 7.00 and is averaging nearly two home runs allowed per game.

ON DECK

The Tigers (36-46) now head north of the border to partake in the Canada Day weekend festivities as well as a four-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays (37-43).

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Detroit took two of three from Toronto to open the month of June. Since then, the Blue Jays have basically played .500 ball in that span (11-10), picking up some quality wins over the likes of Washington, Los Angeles, and Houston in that stretch. This is a club that still remains very much invested in the true outcomes of hitting. Toronto ranks fifth in the American League in walks, sixth in homers, and sixth in strikeouts.

The Rogers Centre has been a tough trip for the Tigers in recent years. They have dropped four straight series in Toronto and have just two series wins in their last 10 trips north of the border. This is also the first time since 2013, the last time they won a series in Toronto, that the Tigers are in town for Canada Day.

PITCHING MATCHUPS

Game 1 | Francisco Liriano (Tigers) vs. Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays)

With Francisco Liriano (3-3, 3.94 ERA) back from a stint on the disabled list, expect the trade talks surrounding the 34-year-old to pick up slowly once more. The former Blue Jay in his return from the DL was ambushed for three first-inning runs by the Cleveland Indians before settling down and allowing just one more baserunner over his final three innings. Liriano did not face the Blue Jays in the first meeting between these two clubs but he has a 5.40 ERA in seven career appearances against one of his former employers.

Detroit will also get their first look at Marcus Stroman (0-5, 6.80 ERA) this season. The 27-year-old turned in his best year as a big leaguer in 2017, registering an ERA barely over 3.00 in 33 starts, finishing 7th in AL Cy Young voting and earning a Gold Glove as well. However, it has been a struggle for Stroman in 2018. His walk rate has spiked to over four per nine innings. And, like Liriano, he has missed significant time recently due to injury; he will make just his second start since coming off the DL last week.

Game 2 | Matthew Boyd (Tigers) vs. Sam Gaviglio (Blue Jays)

The Tigers need to see Matthew Boyd (4-6, 4.15 ERA) start to turn things around sooner or later. Boyd’s ERA is 6.75 in five starts this month, after posting an ERA of exactly 3.00 through his 10 outings of the season. Perhaps it is just a gradual regression to the mean for Boyd, but teams are starting to hit him harder now. Opposing hitters are slugging nearly .500 on June, versus .289 in April and May. Maybe another crack at the team who drafted him could jump-start him. Boyd allowed four runs over seven innings against the Blue Jays back on June 2.

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Sam Gaviglio (2-2, 3.98 ERA) has seized some opportunities to start for Toronto due to injuries in the rotation and, by and large, has been able to hold his own for a fill-in. However, the 26-year-old has struggled to give the Blue Jays some valuable innings in starts. Gaviglio has failed to go at least five frames over his last three starts, compiling a 7.50 ERA in that span. Gaviglio has logged 25 games (20 starts) in parts of now two seasons, splitting 2017 between Seattle and Kansas City.

Game 3 | Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers) vs. J.A. Happ (Blue Jays)

Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 4.35 ERA) has returned from the DL basically picking up right where he left off just before his shoulder injury. Zimmermann in his last two starts has a 2.70 ERA (3 ER [4 R] in 10 IP), with all the runs charged coming in one inning against the Chicago White Sox. Over his last four starts now, which extends back to April 30, Zimmermann has a 1.23 ERA, holding opponents to a .387 OPS. He has a career 3.93 ERA in three starts vs. Toronto. This, however, will be his first start in the Rogers Centre.

Blue Jays lefty J.A. (pronounced ‘Jay’) Happ (10-3, 3.62 ERA) could end up being the most sought-after starter on the trade market in the coming weeks. Happ currently has a 3.93 K/BB ratio, the highest in any single season for him in his career. His 1.06 WHIP is also the lowest of any of his 12 major league seasons. The free-agent-to-be has been a bit more pedestrian at home this year, posting a 4.20 ERA in nine starts at the Rogers Centre.

Game 4 | Mike Fiers (Tigers) vs. TBA (Blue Jays)

Mike Fiers (5-5, 4.04 ERA) was brilliant in his last start against the swingin’ A’s,  allowing just one run on five hits over seven innings on June 27. Unlike Boyd who has taken a step back in June, Fiers overall has improved his numbers this month. The ERA in five starts this month is a solid 3.30. He missed the Blue Jays in the first go-round between these two clubs but carries a career 4.11 ERA in six appearances vs. Toronto.

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The Blue Jays are listing Monday’s starter as “TBA” for now as they wait and see how Aaron Sanchez (3-5, 4.52 ERA) recovers from a recent finger injury that landed him in the DL. Should Sanchez be unable to go, it could mean a chance for 24-year-old Ryan Borucki to make his second major league start. Borucki is the Blye Jays’ No. 8 prospect in their system, he allowed two runs over six innings on June 26 against the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.

HITTERS TO WATCH

The Tigers have struggled to produce offense at times, really all season but especially more so away from Comerica Park. The only real elite road hitter for Detroit in 2018 has been Nicholas Castellanos and his .322/.365/.517 road slash line. Castellanos is also swinging a hot bat, coming off a 7-for-15 performance against Oakland in the four-game sweep, with two homers and six runs batted in.

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For Toronto, don’t let the .203 season batting average for Randal Grichuk fool you. Grichuk hit just .106 through 25 games in April before a knee injury placed him on the DL for a month. He came back on June 1 and has turned things around, hitting .286 with a .986 OPS in 23 games this month. 13 of his 17 extra-base hits and 17 of his 24 RBI have come in June.

SERIES INFO

  • Game 1 | Fri, Jun 29 @ 7:07 p.m. ET
  • Game 2 | Sat, Jun 30 @ 1:07 p.m. ET
  • Game 3 | Sun, Jul 1 @ 1:07 p.m. ET
  • Game 4 | Mon, Jul 2 @ 1:07 p.m. ET*

All games can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit unless otherwise noted. Be sure to check your local listings for regional radio broadcasts.

*Can be seen on MLB Network (out-of-market only)

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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