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Beware of Miguel Cabrera: Oakland A's at Detroit Tigers series preview

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The Oakland Athletics visit Comerica Park for four games against the Detroit Tigers to wrap up their three-city Eastern Time Zone trip. It's their first series against a non-2015 postseason team after three against the Royals, Yankees, and Blue Jays.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers perennial All-Star Miguel Cabrera is in an April slump, and it's actually quite unusual for Cabrera to stumble out of the gate. He has a 105 or better wRC+ in every season of his career, but he's hitting .206/.296/.302 for a 63 wRC+ so far. At Bless you Boys, Brandon Day identifies the issue as Cabrera pounding more balls into the ground than ever before, resulting in a much reduced BABIP of .250. One possible explanation:

The real issue to work on may still be rooted in the lower body injuries that have plagued him over the past two seasons. Manager Brad Ausmus commented recently that Cabrera was forced to limit his leg drive in order to remain productive over the past two seasons, and, while now finally working with healthy legs, has some bad habits to work through.

Many of Detroit's starters have been picking up the slack to some extent, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia with his six home runs and club-leading 211 wRC+ in 48 plate appearances. However, there has been enough flailing at the plate, especially from Detroit's bench bats, to put the Tigers' wRC+ at 98, just 16th in MLB. That's still better than the A's at 89 (ranked 24th), but Detroit has pitching woes that won't make up for any offensive deficiencies.

The A's get a big break for Monday's game after Ian Kinsler was scratched from the game with the flu. Kinsler has been Detroit's best non-catcher hitter by wRC+ (152), going .333/.354/.533 with four home runs.

Probable pitching matchups and broadcast schedule

Thursday's morning finale will be broadcast on MLB Network in the Bay Area with the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast. Concern over rain on Monday has disappated, though Thursday's game could end up in a rain delay or two.

Time (PT) TV Oakland Toronto
Mon. 4:10 PM CSNCA RHP Kendall Graveman (1-1, 2.04) RHP Jordan Zimmermann (3-0, 0.00)
Tue. 4:10 PM CSNCA LHP Rich Hill (2-2, 3.32) RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-3, 3.68)
Wed. 4:10 PM CSNCA RHP Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.73) RHP Justin Verlander (1-2, 5.79)
Thu. 10:10 AM MLBN RHP Chris Bassitt (0-1, 4.44) RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-2, 7.00)
Monday

So far, Jordan Zimmermann's five year, $110 million deal is paying off in spades for the Tigers. Zimmermann has pitched into the seventh inning of all three of his starts and has yet to allow a run. So far this year, Zimmermann has increased the use of his slider without it losing any of its effectiveness from overexposure so far.

Tuesday

Mike Pelfrey has been bitten by a combination of bad run support and bad defense behind him. In his first start, he was charged with just two of the six runs he allowed in the game that kept an inning alive long enough for Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to hit a bases clearing triple. In his second start, he allowed just one run on five hits, but he also walked six batters and the Tigers failed to score on Dallas Keuchel and Luke Gregerson.

The walks have been a huge problem for Pelfrey so far, conceding 12 base-on-balls compared to striking out eight. With the two home runs he has allowed, he has a 6.23 FIP.

Wednesday

Sonny Gray vs. Justin Verlander should bring back exciting memories. I'm sure both broadcasts will be filled with highlights of Games 2 and 5 of the 2013 American League Division Series.

Verlander is off to a rough start, however, though he's made three quality starts already, though two of those barely qualified. What's driven his ERA up was a 10-hitter against the Pirates on April 11 where he allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. His last start, against the Cleveland Indians, was the best of the year. He struck out 10 and gave up just four hits, though two of them were solo home runs.

Even if the A's get on base, watch out for that pickoff move of his.

Thursday

I'm not sure what to make of Anibal Sanchez after ending 2015 with a 4.99 ERA. He's just three seasons removed from a fourth place finish in the AL Cy Young voting with the lowest HR/9 total on a Tigers club that also had Max Scherzer and the good versions of Justin Verlander and Doug Fister on it. Last year he led the team in home runs allowed despite only making 25 starts, and this year he's already given up four home runs in 18 innings, plus he's walked nine batters.

From Catherine Slonksnis' recap of Sanchez's last start for Bless You Boys:

Anibal Sanchez can't command the strike zone, an issue prevalent with most of the starting staff for the last 10 games.

...

"I've been struggling location-wise against big league teams," Sanchez added. "They take advantage of all my mistakes, especially when you're around the zone and you don't hit the corners or side to side, change the speed. They took advantage of that, they jumped on a couple of pitches.

"I'm working on (the high pitch count). I'm not used to throwing that many pitches, especially early in the game. You can have one or two innings (with a high pitch count) but you don't wanna throw seven-plus innings, you don't wanna throw 35 pitches, or even 16 pitches in an inning, I think it's too much."

Injuries

Catcher James McCann has been out since April 12 with a sprained ankle, and Cameron Maybin's rehab assignment from a fractured left wrist was shut down after he injured his shoulder on a diving play, though he should be back to minor league game action soon.

Starting pitcher Daniel Norris is making his last rehab start with the Toledo Mud Hens on Monday night, so no danger of the A's facing the Van Man.

Bullpen

The Tigers bullpen is off to a so-so start in 2016, with the relievers' ERA of 3.32 ranking 10th in the AL and FIP of 3.53 ranking 8th.

Francisco Rodriguez was placed on the Family Medical Emergency List on Sunday for a personal matter, with manager Brad Ausmus saying he'll be away from the team for at least three days, which is the minimum time for that list. The Tigers initially called up Matt Boyd, but he threw 69 pitches in relief of Shane Greene and Drew VerHagen on Sunday. The Tigers called up Jose Valdez to replace Boyd today.

A's bullpen Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA FIP 24-Apr 23-Apr 22-Apr 21-Apr 20-Apr 19-Apr
Ryan Madson R 9.2 1.86 1.75 12 7 12
Sean Doolittle L 8.0 4.50 7.59 10 8 11
John Axford R 10.0 0.00 2.09 22 12
Marc Rzepczynski L 7.0 0.00 2.09 6 19 4 5
Ryan Dull R 10.2 2.53 3.00 19 26 19
Fernando Rodriguez R 11.2 1.54 2.24 20 20 30
Andrew Triggs R -- -- -- 29 40
Liam Hendriks R 8.1 9.72 3.09 29 11
Tigers bullpen Recent usage (pitch count from www.rosterresource.com)
Player Hand IP ERA FIP 24-Apr 23-Apr 22-Apr 21-Apr 20-Apr 19-Apr
Mark Lowe R 7.0 3.86 2.09 6
Jusin Wilson L 7.1 0.00 0.50 28 13
Alex Wilson R 4.0 0.00 1.09 31 13
Blaine Hardy L 3.0 3.00 6.09 22 28
Drew VerHagen R 9.1 7.71 3.74 36 13 17
Jose Valdez R -- -- -- 16 16
Kyle Ryan L 9.2 2.79 2.99 49 17 11

Other notes

Some fun facts out of the A's game notes provided by their Baseball Information Services team:

  • The A's are batting .265 with 37 runs scored over their last eight games after hitting .212 with 29 runs scored over the first 11 contests.
  • The A's won the season series against Detroit last year 4-2, including a three-game sweep in Detroit. The A's are 33-25 (.569) at Comerica Park, the best winning percentage by any team at Comerica.
  • This day in 1901, Nap Lajoie has three hits in the first game in Athletics history. Here's to the 116th season of Athletics baseball!