Series Preview: Tigers at Reds

060712-tigers_mediumInterleague gets underway again this weekend, and the Reds play host to the Detroit Tigers. By many accounts, this was a team that was supposed to run away with the AL Central this year. As you can see, they haven't. They're sitting in third place, a handful of games below .500, while the White Sox and Indians are battling it out for the crown. This team has a lot of talent (at least in terms of star power), but so far the supporting cast has been far below where it needs to be for this team to contend.

The offense was supposed to be outstanding. It's just been good. It is anchored by a pair of stars, but as we'll see not a lot else has gone right for the Tigers offensively. Their rotation has put up gaudy peripherals, but thus far has been only been decent. The bullpen has similarly put up acceptable peripherals, but has had bad performance.

A big part of the reason for the disparity in the pitching numbers is probably the defense. This is a bad fielding ballclub. They rank the lowest in the AL in UZR, DRS, DRA, DER, and my home brewed FIP - Base Runs stat. It's hard to attribute this bad of a team performance to specific players, but a glance at the roster (see below) shows that this is not a team designed to flash the leather.

A thing to keep in mind, however, is that this is an AL team. As such, their average opponent is probably a better team than the average opponent that the Reds face. As a result, you can mentally adjust all of their numbers upward at least a smidge. With that in mind, this still looks like a pretty dangerous ballclub.

Park Factors: Great American Ballpark

Runs: 1.02

Home Runs: 1.06 LHB, 1.13 RHB

Position Players

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The Tigers have been beleaguered by injuries and ineffectiveness. Alex Avila just went on the DL with a groin pull. Austin Jackson is on the DL with an abdominal pull. Doug Fister (in the rotation) is also out, for the second time this season, with a strained side. On top of that, the guy they were counting on to be their every day second baseman, Ryan Raburn, was completely ineffective and had to be sent down to AAA. His replacements haven't hit much better, but they presumably at least can field a bit. Brennan Boesch also appears to have turned back into a pumpkin after a surprising couple of years in the Tigers' outfield. Even 3B (!) Miguel Cabrera and newly-signed Prince Fielder have just been very good, as opposed to phenomenal. It's been pretty brutal.

As for the Reds, I've taken the liberty of benching Drew Stubbs, who is day to day with a side strain, and placing Chris Heisey in the outfield. The Reds also prompoted Kris Negron, who has yet to figure out AAA pitching, much less major league pitchers. He's shown a good eye at lower levels, and hit 11 home runs in AA two years ago...but I wouldn't expect much from him. I don't really get what he adds with Wilson Valdez already on the roster, but he's the 25th man on the roster, so whatever.

Probable Starters

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Rick Porcello has consistently gotten far more hype than I think he deserves. That said, he's putting up pretty good numbers in spite of his ERA. Few walks and lots of ground balls is a way to be effective.

Justin Verlander... On one hand, I hate to see the Reds face a pitcher like him, as it certainly doesn't give them a great chance to win. But on the other, I love great pitchers. And Justin Verlander is unquestionably great. He has given up a good number of fly balls, however...playing a Great American Ballpark, that could represent some level of vulnerability that the Reds are well designed to exploit--power is the only thing they do remotely well on offense!

Drew Smyly is a rookie this year. He made the team in somewhat of a surprise over a few other options (including prospect Jacob Turner and current reliever Duane Below), but has been outstanding for them thus far. And he's a lefty, which would seem a poor match-up for the Reds given where their offense is concentrated. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch on Sunday Night Baseball.

Bullpen

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Jose Valverde has never been a great closer. But he's long been a guy who could get the job done more often than not. This year has been a different story: his control has deserted him thus far, he's not striking guys out anymore, and his ground ball rate--which for the past few years had been solid if not good--has drifted back down to where it was in his Diamondbacks days. He has battled some back issues, so that might be in part to blame. Or, it could be that he was born five days after me, i.e. he's getting old. Joaquin Benoit, however, has been his outstanding self, and Octavio Dotel has also been posting big-time numbers despite that ERA. The Tigers also have some pretty solid middle relief options.

Therefore, It really is looking like the guy who is being entrusted with the most important innings on this team also could well be their worst relief pitcher. That's probably not exactly true, but it's also not a huge stretch to say this.

After watching Alfredo Simon pitch the other night against the Pirates, I have no idea how his walk rate can be as low as it is. But I'd sure like to see either he or Jose Arredondo take Logan Ondrusek's gig in the late innings.

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