ON DECK: Tigers open the 2018 season at home against the Pirates

Baseball is finally back, and it sure does feel good. Now that the long offseason is over and spring training storylines are behind us, we can move on to actual baseball games that count.

The Detroit Tigers are not expected to contend this year, or the next, or perhaps the year after next. And it’s ultimately weighed into our bold predictions for this club in 2018, as it has for the ‘experts’ out in Vegas. But fret not, fans of the old English D. It’s a new era of Tiger baseball in Detroit, one that has been a long time coming.

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First on the docket for the Motor City Kitties is their longtime interleague foe, the Pittsburgh Pirates. After three straight seasons from 2013-15 of being one of the better clubs in the National League, the Pirates’ ship has sunk each of the last two seasons. Last year, they collected just 75 wins, finishing in fourth place in the NL Central Division.

It will also be a different looking Pittsburgh club after they traded away a pair of franchise pillars in Andrew McCutchen (Giants) and Gerrit Cole (Astros) this offseason. So expectations are dampened in the Steel City as well.

GAME 1 | Iván Nova (PIT) vs. Jordan Zimmermann (DET)

A couple of vets will toe the slab on Opening Day as Iván Nova gets the ball for Pittsburgh. He will oppose Jordan Zimmermann, who got the nod to pitch in Game 1 of 162, to the surprise of everyone in Detroit.

Nova in 31 starts last season for the Buccos turned in a 4.14 ERA, a small step back after the team acquired him midway through the 2016 season. The Tigers have tagged him pretty good over the years. In six appearances vs. Detroit, Nova has an ERA just north of 7.00.

Meanwhile, Zimmermann has to rebound from a dreadful 2017 campaign. The 6.08 ERA was the worst of his career, and nobody in the American League allowed more earned runs (108) than he did. Zimmermann, however, has had some success against Pittsburgh in his career, a 3.96 ERA in four career starts.

GAME 2 | Trevor Williams (PIT) vs. Michael Fulmer (DET)

25-year-old Trevor Williams largely earned a spot in the rotation for his workload last season, posting a 4.07 ERA in 31 games (25 starts) in what was his first full major league season. He was brilliant in his lone start vs. Detroit last season, tossing seven scoreless frames and allowing three total baserunners.

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The Tigers have been extra careful with Michael Fulmer this offseason after he was shut down prematurely in 2017 and underwent surgery shortly thereafter. Fulmer was reportedly not considered an option to pitch on Opening Day for Detroit. More importantly, the Tigers are hoping to get upwards of 30 starts from him in 2018.

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This will be Fulmer’s first career start against the Pirates.

GAME 3 | Chad Kuhl (PIT) vs. Francisco Liriano (DET)

Chad Kuhl is another young arm the Pirates like for his upside, and are hoping he can take a step forward in 2018. Kuhl in 31 starts last year logged a 4.37 ERA. He turned in a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER) last year against Detroit, picking up a win as well.

Detroit signed veteran Francisco Liriano early in spring camp to give the Tigers an extra option — as not only a long relief man but potentially a starter — given some uncertainties in the back of the rotation. Liriano has capitalized on his opportunities, allowing just two earned runs in seven innings of work, spanning three starts. Now, he’s the clear-cut No. 3 starter to start the season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

The Tigers as a team hit just .227 with an OPS barely over .600 in four games against the Pirates last season. Two guys who did have success were Mikie Mahtook and Nicholas Castellanos. Both were a combined 11 for 30 against Pittsburgh pitching. Castellanos, in particular, notched two triples and drove in seven runs.

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The Pirates’ offense didn’t fare too much better against Detroit pitching in 2017, hitting just .242 across the board. But then rookie Josh Bell was a problem for the Tigers. Bell went 4 for 12, including two doubles and a homer, driving in three runs.

SERIES INFO

  • Game 1 | Thursday, March 29 @ 1:10 p.m. ET
  • Game 2 | Saturday, March 31 @ 1:10 p.m. ET*
  • Game 3 | Sunday, April 1 @ 1:10 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 for those outside the Detroit market

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