Tigers-Rays Series Preview

TIME RUNNING OUT FOR BOTH TIGERS AND RAYS AS PENNANT RACE HITS STRETCH RUN

Normally we emphasize a high profile series involving likely playoff teams here in the NOTEBOOK. Today, we're going to drop down the ladder a bit to study what could be a CRITICAL series involving teams who are right on the fringe of the American League pennant picture.

Both the Detroit Tigers and Tampa Bay Rays have been hanging around the .500 mark in a way that frustrates their fans and hampers their front offices. It's easy to go all out for a championship run if you're definitely going to make the brackets. It's easy to trade some veterans to bring in young talent for the future if you're definitely out of the race. But...if you're treading water just a few games out of the last playoff spot...and nobody believes that the Minnesota Twins are going to hold onto that last playoff spot...what the heck do you do?!

It could turn out that the winner of this Tigers/Rays series gets serious about a Wildcard run...and the loser starts making trades.

Let's run the numbers to see how the series might play out...and to see if we can figure out why these teams aren't playing more impressive ball...

OFFENSE
Detroit: 4.53 runs per game, .336 on-base, .432 slugging
Tampa Bay: 3.53 runs per game, .301 on-base, .374 slugging

Losing Miguel Cabrera was a blow for the Tigers. But, it hasn't exactly killed their offense. There's a lot of production here anyway. Tampa Bay has one of the worst offenses in the league...and can't be taken seriously to get hot down the stretch unless they show some life. Clear edge to Detroit, though it's obviously less of an advantage as long as Cabrera is out of the lineup.

MONDAY'S PITCHERS
Anibel Sanchez: 4.59 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.9 K-Rate, 6.6 IP-per-Start
Nathan Karns: 3.47 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.5 K-Rate, 5.7 IP-per-Start

Detroit has won Sanchez's last eight starts. So, you can't say that his disappointing ERA is killing the team. That long string of Overs for the Tigers meant their rotation starters were getting a lot of run support! His ERA is 3.16 during that span...as he continues to bounce back from a horrendous start. Karns is getting outs, but continues to have trouble with high pitch counts. If he can't make it past the sixth inning...it eventually becomes a drain on the bullpen. Decent numbers...but he has to become more efficient. Edge to Sanchez if you assume the last eight starts are more representative of his current form.

TUESDAY'S PITCHERS
David Price: 2.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.6 K-Rate, 7.0 IP-per-Start
Jake Odorizzi: 2.85 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 7.3 K-Rate, 6.1 IP-per-Start

Price has been on fire the last six weeks, which has lowered his ERA down to something that shouldn't be possible in the DH league. His name has already come up in trade rumors because he's obviously a guy contenders would like to have throwing for them. That's why he's in Detroit in the first place! The Tigers got him from Tampa Bay for that very purpose. Who will Price be throwing for in September?  Solid numbers for Odorizzi, but his IP-per-start is starting to sag because he hasn't gone six full innings in any of his last three starts. Worth thinking about the Under, or just Price to win the game because he's so familiar with that ball park.

WEDNESDAY'S PITCHERS
Justin Verlander: 5.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 5.4 K-Rate, 6.0 IP-per-Start
Chris Archer: 2.67 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 10.8 K-Rate, 6.4 IP-per-Start

Mostly bad news in that stat line for Verlander. But, he's actually thrown two gems in his last three outings. So, there's hope that he can at least approximate his best form moving forward. The problem is that his strikeout rate just isn't there any more. If he's pitching to contact, the best offenses are going to keep lighting him up. Archer, on the other hand, has a huge K-Rate that continues to fly below the media radar. That's 162 strikeouts in only 134.2 innings! You have to assume an edge to Archer with those dominant numbers above....though Verlander does have a chance to keep it close in a getaway game.

What have we learned about the playoff picture? Well, we get a slightly misleading read on the Tigers because their "big three" are going in this series. The #4 and #5 spots have really struggled. And, you saw above that Verlander has "risen" to inconsistent while Sanchez is making up for lost time. It's tough to chase down teams from behind if the back end of your rotation can't get wins! Not going to happen at all if Verlander doesn't shine.

Tampa Bay is also throwing its top three guys. The back end of the rotation isn't as bad as Detroit's but is still vulnerable because the team offense is so bad. Very tough to see the Rays catching fire over an extended period unless the offense finds some potency. Detroit has the better chance moving forward. Though, Toronto, Baltimore, and Texas are also "treading water" teams who may learn how to swim. What if Minnesota never slows down? A fascinating, if somewhat ugly, race ahead for that final Wildcard spot.

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We stay in the American League these next few days until picking up with more major college football conference previews. So much going on as the summer continues to fly by! Here's the pending NOTEBOOK schedule...

Tuesday: MLB Series Preview...LA Angels at Houston
Wednesday: MLB Big Game Preview...NY Yankees at Texas
Thursday: College Football Preview...American Athletic Conference
Friday: College Football Preview...the Independents
Saturday: College Football Preview...ACC Atlantic
Sunday: College Football Preview...ACC Coastal

It will be August by the weekend...and September before you know it. Keep building your bankrolls with daily baseball so you GET ALL THE MONEY!

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