Game 54, Tigers at Mariners
Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Justin Verlander, 7:10pm
Everyone talks about the painful sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians last year as a turning point in the season. To me, the tone was set in April, when the Tigers came to Seattle and essentially shut down the M’s. That awful extra-inning game in which the M’s wasted a brilliant start by Felix through a combination of poor strategy and poor roster construction…that felt ominous, and it was. That’s not to say that getting shut down by the Tigers was some damning indictment – their rotation last year was incredible. It was a test for the M’s against playoff-caliber opponents, with their own playoff-caliber starter on the hill. They failed the test.
Today, the Tigers are once again the class of the AL Central, which is again perhaps the weakest division in baseball. They’ve still got 2-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander at the top of their rotation, and they’ve still got a powerful offense paced by Miguel Cabrera. Verlander’s been a key component of the Tigers success, as the righty’s been incredibly durable while maintaining excellent rate stats. Last year was the first sign that he might be slipping – his walk rate inched up, and his BABIP jumped as well. His velocity wasn’t changed much overall (though it seemed to come and go), and it would’ve been easy to assume it’d regress back to his very low career average. Instead, his walk rate’s up further and his BABIP’s crept still higher. He’s paired that with a drop in K rate too. Verlander is still an excellent pitcher, and he’s had plenty of room to fall from his peak and still add plenty of value for Detroit, but facing him doesn’t feel like quite the test it did just a few years ago.
You can argue that Hisashi Iwakuma is the better pitcher in this game, even if Verlander may still have the edge when you combine quantity and quality of innings. That doesn’t factor in quality of opponent, but it’s pretty good to go into a game against Verlander, a game with Endy Chavez leading off, and know that the M’s have a decent chance.
1: Chavez, LF
2: Jones, CF
3: Saunders, RF
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Ackley, DH
8: Franklin, 2B
9: Miller, SS
Sooooo….Endy Chavez is back, Cano is out, and Dustin Ackley is DH’ing. I may have spoken too soon when I said all that about a “decent chance.”
Brandon Maurer has mercifully been optioned to Tacoma, and Endy’s up and :sigh: leading off. Blake Beavan goes to the 60-day DL to free up a 40-man spot. Erasmo Ramirez, who was pretty effective last night in Tacoma, will take Maurer’s spot in the rotation.
Matt Palmer starts for Tacoma tonight against Salt Lake, one of his former teams. The Rainiers have been struggling, and pitching’s a big part of that. Palmer’s steadied the rotation since joining the team in mid-May, but he can’t do it alone. Despite a very good offense playing in one of the only pitcher’s parks in the circuit, the Rainiers’ team ERA is over 5. Of course, tonight’s opponent’s got a team ERA over 6. #PCLforLife.