(Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Two teams finishing the season far better than they started get an opportunity to show off their improved product to one another when the Detroit Tigers open a four-game series against the host Oakland Athletics on Thursday.
A pair of the franchises' most promising players -- Tigers left-hander Tarik Skubal (6-3, 3.25 ERA) and A's righty Luis Medina (3-9, 5.56) -- will get the ball when the clubs meet for the first time since early July. Oakland won two of the three games in that series in Detroit.
The Tigers (71-81) improved to 12-7 in their last 19 games with a 4-2 road win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday.
Detroit's non-contending overall record is mostly the product of two bad months -- a 10-17 start in March/April and a 9-18 slump in June. Other than that, the team has gone 52-46, a .531 winning percentage that is better than the overall mark of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
One of the Tigers' biggest reasons for 2024 optimism has been the season turned in by Skubal, who was unable to pitch until July 4 because of an elbow injury. He gave an indication of things to come when he made his 2023 debut against the A's, throwing four no-hit innings with six strikeouts before being pulled after 57 pitches.
The 26-year-old has allowed no earned runs in five of his 13 starts, and he's been on top of his game in September. He's gone 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 19 innings this month.
Skubal has gone 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA in five career starts against the A's.
He'll be matched up against the 24-year-old Medina, who served as a bulk-innings reliever in his last appearance and performed well. Medina limited the San Diego Padres to one earned run in 3 2/3 innings, recording strikeouts for seven of the 11 outs.
Medina has never faced the Tigers.
The A's (46-106) have dropped seven in a row, but the journey to next week's finish line is about more than just wins and losses.
"I'm just happy to be living in this moment," said A's pitcher Joey Estes, who made his major-league debut in Wednesday's 6-3 home loss to the Seattle Mariners. "Once you leave that tunnel, it's like it's everything you want to walk out into. It's what you dream of."
Oakland has enjoyed its greatest monthly success of the season in September, when it has gone 7-11 (.389). It's been part of a 21-39 second half during which the A's have won just four fewer games than in the first half (25-67) despite playing 32 fewer games.
Coincidentally, it could be the Tigers who are debuting a new pitcher in this series. Right-hander Brenan Hanifee, selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft, was promoted to the majors for the first time Wednesday. He has yet to appear in a big-league game.
"For all seven years that I've been in pro ball, I've thought about this day," Hanifee said Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. "What a great group of guys to come into."
--Field Level Media