The Detroit Tigers are most definitely limping into the All-Star break. Following a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit has now lost 18 of their last 22 contests, falling to a season-worst 15 games under the .500 mark.
The defending World Series champions have not skipped a beat, establishing themselves from day one as a contender once more. They are certainly a favorite to perhaps be the first team to win back-to-back titles since the New York Yankees’ three-peat from 1998-2000. This year’s Astros is one of the more well-rounded clubs in baseball this season, they rank second in the sport in wins (62) and third in win percentage (.646) entering Friday.
Detroit is 20-14 overall against Houston since the ‘Stros joined the American League in 2013. They have, however, dropped four straight series at Minute Maid Park, including losing three of four last season.
Game 1 | Mike Fiers (Tigers) vs. Dallas Keuchel (Astros)
A pair of former teammates will square off in Game 1. Mike Fiers (6-5, 3.65 ERA) will receive his World Series ring prior to the start of the series (along with Tigers’ Sunday starter, Francisco Liriano). Fiers spent 2+ seasons with Houston prior to signing with Detroit in the offseason. The 33-year-old has been very effective as of late, pitching to a 2.54 ERA over his last eight starts. This will be Fiers’ 36th career start at Minute Maid Park, he has a 3.70 ERA lifetime pitching in Houston.
Fiers’ former teammate Dallas Keuchel (6-8, 3.95 ERA) will oppose him for the Astros. The 30-year-old was once the ace of the club before a complete overhaul of the rotation that now has him fourth or even fifth in the pecking order of starters. Keuchel has not quite been as dominant as he was in 2015 when he won the AL CY Young Award but he’s been (mostly) better as of late, giving up two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts. He owns a career 4.65 ERA in seven games (six starts) against the Tigers.
Game 2 | Michael Fulmer (Tigers) vs. TBD (Astros)
This may be a recurring theme but is this maybe the last start that Michael Fulmer (3-8, 4.11 ERA) makes in a Tigers uniform? Fulmer fell into some early trouble in his last start against the Texas Rangers, allowing three runs in the first two innings, but settled down and faced just one batter over the minimum over the final five innings. It was the fourth time in six starts in which Fulmer went at least seven innings (3.10 ERA in that span). Unfortunately, the Tigers have won just one of those six starts. This will be just his second career start against the Astros.
The Astros have officially listed Saturday’s starter as “TBD” but all signs point toward to it being Gerritt Cole (9-2, 2.57 ERA) returning from the bereavement list. The 27-year-old was acquired by Houston in the winter after spending his first five major league seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Cole is enjoying his most dominant season, seeing a huge uptick in strikeouts (12.4 K/9) and career-low in base runners allowed (0.97 WHIP), earning his second-ever All-Star nod. He has four career starts against the Tigers from his time in the Steel City (2.70 ERA vs. DET).
Game 3 | Francisco Liriano (Tigers) vs. TBD (Astros)
Francisco Liriano (3-5, 4.74 ERA) will also receive his World Series ring from the Astros after being acquired by them mid-season last year, having made only eight appearances (five in the playoffs) with them in 2017. Liriano endured his roughest start of the season his last time out against Tampa Bay, allowing a season-high seven earned runs in just 2.1 innings of work (most runs allowed in a start and shortest outing in a start since 5/10/2017). He owns a career 4.58 ERA in three starts against the Astros.
Houston has “TBD” for the series finale on Sunday but, as has been reported, this will be Justin Verlander (9-4, 2.05 ERA) on the bump facing his former long-time employer… can we just skip this? I can’t even right now.
All kidding aside, JV has been absolute money since the Tigers traded him to the Astros late last season, helping Houston to their first ever World Series title. He has a sub-2.00 ERA in 25 regular season starts with Houston and leads the AL in both ERA (2.05) and WHIP (0.82). Oh, and his 10.9 K/9 is the highest of his career. Verlander will be excused from pitching in the mid-summer classic due to this scheduled start.
HITTERS TO WATCH
The Tigers have really exercised their patience with young third baseman Jeimer Candelario despite him hitting just .136 over his last 29 games played. It’s largely due to the fact that he has held his own defensively, provided some power offensively, and is still proving to be a tough at-bat for opposing pitchers (leads the team with 4.28 pitches per plate appearance). Candy will have his work cut out for him against this vaunted Astros rotation.
It is easy to point to a guy like Jose Altuve when you talk of the Astros, but the guy that stirs the pot for them could very well be is Alex Bregman. The 24-year-old is posting a team-high .914 OPS heading into this final series, having earned his first All-Star honor and will partake in Monday’s Home Run Derby showdown (will be the only AL player participating). Bregman has been hot, too. Since the start of June, he is hitting .316 with an OPS well over 1.000 (37 games).
- Game 1 | Fri, July 13 @ 8:10 p.m. ET
- Game 2 | Sat, July 14 @ 4:10 p.m. ET*
- Game 3 | Sun, July 15 @ 2:10 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)