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The Detroit Tigers in 1,203 words: An Oakland A's series preview

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The Tigers series is always a fun series.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers come to the Coliseum under what should be quite cool conditions for this three-game set against the Oakland Athletics that includes two day games, beginning with Monday's Memorial Day afternoon contest. Starting the year 6-0, the Tigers have since gone 20-19 and trail the Kansas City Royals by three games in the American League Central.

It's been an interesting rivalry with the Tigers these last few years, filled with memorable moments like Rajai Davis's backyard grand slam at Comerica Park last year, Sonny Gray going pitch-for-pitch with Justin Verlander in 2013, and of course the memorable Game 4 victory in 2012. On Detroit's visit to Oakland last year, they split four games, including this walk off three-run home run on May 28:

The A's have the benefit of neither player in this matchup, with Joe Nathan out for the season to get Tommy John surgery and Josh Donaldson figuring out exchange rates these days. However, the Tigers do have the benefit of one Yoenis Cespedes, who continues to hit for power, with a .191 ISO, and continues to swing at a bunch of pitches out of the zone, with a career high O-Swing 42.5% of pitches, according to Fangraphs.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

On the mound

The Tigers are without Justin Verlander due to a strained triceps, and Kyle Lobstein was just placed on the disabled list (though the A's would have missed him on this trip anyway). Shane Greene, David Price, and Alfredo Simon will take the hill for the three-game series.

Monday vs. Shane Greene
Monday (1:05 PM PDT)
Shane Greene vs. Jesse Hahn
4.05 ERA 4.43
3.67 FIP 3.35
4.10 xFIP 3.75
15.9% K% 16.2%
1.67 GB/FB 2.28

Shane Greene was part of the three-team deal involving the Diamondbacks and Yankees last December that sent Didi Gregorious to New York and Robby Ray to Arizona. Greene is primarily throwing a sinker and cutter, and also throws a 94 mph fastball, a changeup, and a slider, according to Brooks Baseball.

He practically never throws the changeup against right-handers and rarely throws the slider to left-handers. Two right-handed batters have hit Greene's slider out of the park, and the only home run he has allowed to a left-hander was on a cutter.

Tuesday vs. David Price
Tuesday (7:05 PM PDT)
David Price vs. Jesse Chavez
3.32 ERA 2.89
3.35 FIP 2.83
3.63 xFIP 3.80
21.6% K% 22.9%
0.96 GB/FB 0.92

David Price remains consistently good at his job, striking out batters at the 15th-highest rate among 57 qualified American League starters. He's still a fly ball pitcher, with the 9th-lowest GB/FB ratio of those 57, but he's only giving up a home run on 8.7% of his fly balls, ranking 20th best.

David Price throws a 95 mph fastball, a singer, a circle change, cutter, and knuckle curve, according to Brooks Baseball. While he throws that fastball most frequently (40% to LHH, 48% to RHH), there is not a lot of variance with what he throws in any given count. If anything he has a slight tendency to throw more fastball to right-handed hitters ahead in the count.

Wednesday vs. Alfredo Simon
Wednesday (12:35 PM PDT)
Alfredo Simon vs. Scott Kazmir
2.67 ERA 3.09
3.62 FIP 3.94
4.22 xFIP 3.77
16.1% K% 22.7%
1.11 GB/FB 1.42

Alfredo Simon opposes Scott Kazmir Wednesday. The 34-year-old "Big Pasta" was obtained from the Cincinatti Reds for Eugenio Suarez and minor leaguer Jonathon Crawford. He's relying a lot more on his splitter than ever before, throwing it 32% of the time this year. Some 60% of balls in play on the splitter are ground balls. Simon primarily throws a two-seamer at 93 mph, that splitter, a cutter, 93 mph four-seam fastball, curve, and changeup.

At the plate and in the field

Tigers AL Ranks A's
6th (4.44) RS/G 10th (4.33)
1st (114) wRC+ 5th (102)
11th (38) HR 8th (42)
2nd (.281) AVG 4th (.256)
1st (.345) OBP 5th (.320)
2nd (.428) SLG 10th (.392)
7th (.147) ISO 11th (.136)
T-1st (41) SB 4th (29)
2nd (19) Errors 15th (46)
3rd (10) DRS 7th (-5)
2nd (12.2) UZR/150 15th (-11.5)
8th (.713) DE 6th (.715)

The Tigers have taken some injuries to a number of their marquee names. Catcher Alex Avila will be out until around the All-Star Game for a loose body in his left knee, writes Bless You Boys' Catherine Slonksnis. Victor Martinez is also out until around July, Slonksnis writes.

Yet neither of these injuries seems to be affecting the Tigers' high-powered offense very much, particularly because Victor Martinez was playing extremely poorly for a guy whose sole job is to hit. The designated hitter role is rotating through J.D. Martinez and Tyler Collins, with Rajai Davis adding "third designated hitter" to his current role as "fourth outfielder."

The Tigers certainly miss Alex Avila's catching, with Bless You Boys' Patrick OKennedy citing Avila ranking as the second best defensive catcher by Fangraphs. His bat played decently at the position. He managed a 93 wRC+ in 74 plate appearances before the injury, which was in line with the previous two seasons (97, 92). In his place has been rookie James McCann and his 114 wRC+. McCann has also thrown out eight of 18 base stealers this year, which ranks seventh in baseball.

Sogard line: Eric Sogard pushed his wRC+ up to 74 after going 5-for-13 with two walks and two strikeouts in the four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Tigers have given just 167 of 1,707 (9.8%) non-pitcher plate appearances to batters hitting below, and most of those belonged to the injured Victor Martinez. Tyler Collins and Hernan Perez are the others.

The bullpen

Tigers AL Ranks A's
13th (124.2) IP 5th (139.2)
3rd (2.82) ERA 15th (4.96)
5th (3.67) FIP 13th (4.35)
8th (3.92) xFIP 13th (4.22)

Joe Nathan's absence from the closer role may actually come as a bit of a relief for Tigers fans frustrated that manager Brad Ausmus has insisted on keeping a proven closer in the role. Joakim Soria has taken over, and there are plenty of reasons to think he will stay there.

2015 Stats Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA K% GB% FB% 24-May 23-May 22-May 21-May 20-May 19-May 18-May
Joakim Soria R 19.0 1.42 22.1% 49.0% 34.7% 13 18
Joba Chamberlain R 13.0 1.38 16.1% 36.4% 20.5% 16 10 10 17
Angel Nesbitt R 18.0 3.50 17.1% 50.0% 29.6% 21 2 8 20
Tom Gorzelanny L 15.1 2.93 21.0% 45.5% 34.1% 3 9 11
Al Alburquerque R 17.1 4.15 16.7% 46.4% 30.4% 11 26 25
Blaine Hardy L 17.1 3.12 18.9% 26.0% 54.0% 10 17 4 3 16
Alex Wilson R 18.2 2.41 19.7% 41.2% 39.2% 16 24 12 9

The games

The first contest is the Memorial Day game that makes up the second-half of the today's ESPN Monday baseball doubleheader. Expect the game to start on the Deuce with the Royals and Yankees preceding it.