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Red Sox vs. Tigers Series Preview

Looking ahead to the weekend series against the Tigers

Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Bless You Boys

The opponent in one sentence

The Tigers have been the very definition of an average team with an a run differential of a little below zero and a good offense to go with below-average pitching.



Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 1, Tigers 3


Up. After spending the majority of this season below .500, the Tigers are starting to catch fire. Even after losing handily to the Angels on Thursday, they’ve won five of their last seven and seven of their last eleven, thanks largely to an offense that is giving them a chance to come out ahead in every game.

Pitching Matchups

6/9: Brian Johnson vs. Jordan Zimmermann, 7:10 PM ET

After an injury scare in his last Triple-A start, Johnson got the all-clear on Thursday to make Friday’s start at Fenway. The lefty, of course, was phenomenal in his last major-league start, tossing a complete game shutout in Boston against the Mariners. He needs his command to be on its A-Game if he’s going to have anywhere near the same amount of success on Friday against the Tigers. Fortunately, the Red Sox don’t need the current de facto number five starter to be that good. They just need him to keep them in the game.

Zimmermann was one of the most disappointing pitchers in baseball last season after signing a big contract with Detroit in the previous offseason. Somehow, he’s been ever worse in 2017. The former National has a 5.98 ERA in his first 11 starts with under six strikeouts per nine innings and a whopping 16 home runs allowed in 62 innings of work. Pretty much everything is going wrong for him this year, as even his typically solid control is starting to fall and he’s allowing way more fly balls than ever before. For what it’s worth, he allowed only one run in six innings of work against the Red Sox in April, his first start of the season. Zimmermann features a low-to-mid-90s fastball to go with a slider and a curveball.

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

6/10: Chris Sale vs. Justin Verlander, 7:15 PM ET

Saturday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. Sale hasn’t been quite as dominant in his last few outings, but there’s nothing to worry about here. The lefty is still showing off ridiculous strikeout stuff and hasn’t lost an ounce of talent. Everyone goes through rough patches, and if that’s what this is for Sale it could be a lot worse. He’s incredible talented and one of the best pitchers in the league, and he’ll continue to show that all year.

With Verlander taking the hill for Detroit, this is the best pitching matchup of the series. The Tigers ace was a Cy Young candidate last season, although he’s taken a step back in 2017. His ERA through 12 starts stands at 4.63 as he’s seen a huge increase in walks this season. Still, the strikeout stuff is still there and none of his peripheral stats suggest his walk rate will continue to rise. He still pumps a 95+ mph fastball to go along with a slider and a curveball. For what it’s worth, there’s a chance Verlander will miss this start, but he’s still listed as the probable as of this writing so we’ll go with this for now.

6/11: Drew Pomeranz vs. Daniel Norris, 8:00 PM ET

Pomeranz has looked like a different pitcher of late, particularly in his two starts before his latest one in the Bronx. In those, he was efficient, showed control and was as effective as we’ve seen the lefty in a Red Sox uniform. Then, he struggled a bit against the Yankees, particularly with efficiency. Still, he did well enough to win the game and still showed off strong strikeout stuff. That’s pretty good considering the lineup he was facing, and it still stands to reason that he’ll continue to look like at least a mid-rotation starter.

Norris, a 24-year-old lefty, looked like he might be on the verge of a breakout after a solid 2016. Instead, he’s taken a step back in 2017 with a 4.48 ERA in his first 11 starts. The southpaw does have solid strikeout stuff — 8.2 strikeouts per nine to go with an above-average swinging strike rate — but he struggles with command. For a flyball pitcher, that results in a lot of home runs to go with a lot of free passes. That can be a rough combination, as can be seen his early-season results. Norris leans on a fastball/changeup/slider arsenal.

Old Friends

The Tigers have a host of former Red Sox players, led by Victor Martinez. The former Red Sox catcher is a DH-only player now in his later years, but he’s still a solid hitter. He has strong contact skills, continuing to keep his strikeout rate below 15 percent in this age of ever-rising K-rates while also drawing walks at an above-average rate. The one thing that’s become inconsistent in his late years — he’s now 38 — is his power. He has an Isolated Power of just .126 this season after posting a .186 mark last year.

At the bottom of their lineup resides Jose Iglesias, the former Red Sox infielder who was dealt to Detroit in the Jake Peavy trade back in 2013. He’s still one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, but he’s never been able to bring his offense back to the BABIP-inflated numbers he reached in 2013 and 2015. Still, with his glove alone he’s a solid starting shortstop in this league.

Alex Wilson was largely a throw-in as part of the Rick Porcello/Yoenis Cespedes trade from a few years ago. Now, he’s one of the key members of Detroit’s bullpen, currently serving as their primary setup man. He’s shown a consistent ability to keep runs off the board despite pedestrian strikeout rates.

Notable Hitters

The Tigers lineup is, has been and will be led by Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters of the last two decades. Despite his incredible track record, we may finally be seeing the decline of the future Hall of Famer. He’s still drawing walks at a high rate and is converting balls in play into hits, but his power has fallen off greatly and he’s striking out more than he has in 13 years. Despite that, Red Sox pitchers should always be afraid when he’s in the batter’s box.

J.D. Martinez missed a lot of time to start the season, but he’s been back for about a month now and is hitting as well as ever. One of the faces of the so-called revolution around “lift” and hitting the ball in the air, Martinez is hitting for ridiculous power so far this season and is terrifying in the middle of that lineup.

Like Zimmermann, Justin Upton was a disappointment for Detroit last season. He turned it on late in 2016, though, and has kept it going this season. The outfielder is hitting for big power while drawing enough walks to cancel out his high strikeout rate.

Ian Kinsler remains atop the Tigers lineup, but is hitting as poorly as he ever has before thanks to a low batting average on balls in play that is fueled by a career-low line drive rate.

Alex Avila has been one of the most surprising hitters in the league, hitting for monstrous power while also carrying a sky-high BABIP.

Nick Castellanos has always been one of the most intriguing hitters in the league, but he hasn’t been able to put his tools together at the highest level. He’s having another disappointing year in 2017.

Bullpen Snapshot

The bullpen was once led by Francisco Rodriguez, but the longtime closer lost his job earlier in the year and the unit is now helmed by Justin Wilson. The lefty is one of the more underrated high-leverage arms in the league and combines a high strikeout rate with a fly ball tendency that leads to low BABIPs.

I already mentioned Alex Wilson as one of the primary setup arms in this bullpen, and he’s joined in that role by Shane Greene. The former starter has shown real talent in this relief role, combining high strikeout rates with high groundball rates.

Daniel Stumpf is the only other left-handed reliever in this bullpen besides Justin Wilson in this bullpen. The 26-year-old has one five major-league innings to his name and has proven to be inconsistent in the minors.


The Tigers are a relatively healthy team at this point in time, with just two players on the disabled list. One is James McCann, who started the year as the team’s primary catcher. Avila has performed well enough that they haven’t missed McCann too much, but the latter is still a fine catcher. Fortunately for Detroit, he should be activated in time for this series.

Jim Adduci is a longtime Quad-A outfielder who has had a few cups of coffee but hasn’t made a mark on this league. His timetable to return to action is unclear at this point.

Weather Forecast

Summer is finally here, and it’s going to be a great weekend in Boston. The skies will be clear and the sun will be shining. These games are at night, of course, but you can expect low-70s and high-60s during these games and no threat of rain. It’s nice to finally have baseball weather back in town.