DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are about to play 10 road games in the next 10 days, and it’s possible some of the first-week success could start to wear off.
Over the first six games, the Tigers went a respectable 3-3 against two teams -- the Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins -- that are at possible playoff contenders.
But on Friday night, a 10-game road trip will begin. First up: another three-game series against Cleveland.
While the Tigers managed to stick with Cleveland at home, the bats will have to be much better for them to win the series at Progressive Field.
Detroit scored two runs apiece in each of the first innings against Cleveland. In the other 22 offensive frames, the Tigers only scored a combined five runs.
It’s common for starting pitchers to have their worst innings in the first. Not only are the opposing team’s best hitters at the plate, but pitchers are also trying to get a feel for their stuff and settle in.
If the Tigers don’t score early against Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale and Logan Allen, it could be a long weekend.
On the flip side, Julio Teheran and Tarik Skubal need to have productive outings. Teheran won his first outing with five innings of one-run ball, but he’ll likely have to do better than three walks and three strikeouts to beat Cleveland a second time.
Skubal allowed just two runs in 5.1 innings while striking out four batters. While it wasn’t his usual dominance, the rookie was fairly efficient, something A.J. Hinch has stressed.
Game 3 could be difficult for the Tigers, as Jose Urena didn’t get off to a strong start. He allowed five earned runs on four hits and four walks while lasting just three innings against the Twins.
From Cleveland, the Tigers will head to Houston to play the team with the best record in the league.
Houston is off to a 6-1 start and has by far the best run differential -- plus 31 -- in the American League. The Tigers, for comparison, are at minus 11.
A lineup that features Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker will be a tall order for the Tigers’ pitching staff.
Casey Mize, Matt Boyd and Teheran will face the test, as the Astros counter with ace Zack Greinke, Christian Javier and Lance McCullers.
So far, the Tigers have been extremely competitive in four of six games -- three wins and a 3-2 loss. Hopefully the Astros games don’t go in the other direction.
Don’t put too much stock into Oakland’s abysmal 1-7 start to the season. The Athletics have played five games against the Astros and three against the World Series favorite Los Angeles Dodgers.
Oakland won the AL West Division by seven games last season -- a massive margin in a 60-game schedule. This is expected to be a playoff contender again this season.
It seems like the Tigers have always struggled out west, but the pitching matchups won’t be quite as one-sided as in the Houston series.
Cole Irvin, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt will take the mound against the Tigers, and while all are capable of shutting down this offense -- especially in that ballpark -- none are overpowering.
The Tigers are top five in MLB in terms of the percentage of offense that comes from home runs. But in the cavernous Coliseum, disciplined at-bats and timely hitting are important.
Skubal, Urena, Mize and Boyd will hope to take advantage of the pitcher’s park.
What should we expect?
If the Tigers can return home with four or five wins from this 10-game trip, it would be a major achievement. They’ll be underdogs in all 10 games, especially some of the lopsided pitching matchups.
The record isn’t as important as the process, though, because this Tigers team isn’t making a playoff push.
Can Skubal and Mize build on solid season debuts and pitch efficiently on the road? Is Boyd back to his early 2019 form, or is this just a hot start?
On offense, keep an eye on Willi Castro and Jeimer Candelario. They were the team’s best hitters last season and had hot and cold stretches during the home stand.
And of course, we all want to see what Akil Baddoo does next. Can he continue to come through when the fans are booing, not cheering?