Game 14 Preview: Rangers at Tigers

Apr 15, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello (48) delivers a pitch in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field. The Tigers won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-US PRESSWIRE

Texas Rangers (11-2) at Detroit Tigers (9-4)

Time/Place: 7:00 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation Blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports Detroit Plus, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: Matt Harrison (2-0, 0.64 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (1-0, 1.84 ERA)

In my opinion, Porcello has gotten off to a hot start this season largely because of the improvements he's made with his two-seam fastball. He's throwing it over 1 mph faster than he did last season, and it's also breaking more. It also seems like Porcello has worked on the inside half of the plate more often than he did last season, something that I have attributed to Gerald Laird's game calling behind the plate in his first two starts. Tonight, Porcello just needs to continue what he has been doing. Unlike Adam Wilk, he has the stuff to keep this Rangers lineup at bay. If Porcello continues to hit his spots, he should be fine.

Like Porcello, Matt Harrison has been the most pleasant surprise on his team's pitching staff in the early season. He shut down the Chicago White Sox in his first start, giving up 4 hits and 2 walks in 6 innings. He was nothing if more efficient in his second start, giving up one run in 8 innings of work. One thing to watch for is whether Harrison can continue his ridiculous 93.3% strand rate for another night (and yes, I realize the irony of that sentence considering the number of runners the Rangers left on base last night).

Harrison hasn't had much success against the Tigers over the course of his career. He's just 1-4 with a 6.89 ERA in 5 starts (along with a couple of relief appearances). He's been victimized equally by walks and home runs -- never a good combination -- allowing 24 and 6, respectively, in 31 career innings against the Tigers. He lost both of his starts against Detroit last season, the second of which was Doug Fister's first start as a Tiger. Fun fact: Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge have two career home runs apiece off of Harrison.

"What's wrong with the offense?" A monologue

In a word, nothing.

"But Rob, ever since the Boston series, they're only scoring 3.4 runs per game!"

Yeah, that's not a great number, but when your star goes through an 0-for-22 slump, this will happen. Consider that the Tigers have also faced the likes of James Shields, Jake Peavy, Yu Darvish (lest we forget, he's supposed to be good) and perennial Tiger killers Gavin Floyd and Bruce Chen in that time frame, and you start to see why they're slumping a little bit. Also, consider this little nugget: in 2011, the Tigers scored 35 runs in games 4-13 of the season. They turned out fine.

"Still, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder aren't hitting! They only have three extra base hits since the start of the Chicago series!"

Again, 0-for-22 slump. This won't happen again. And for those worried about Prince, he's quietly chugging along at a .356/.412/.533 clip despite the fact that the Tigers have faced six lefthanded starters in their first 13 games. The fact that he only has 8 RBI so far shows why they don't always tell the whole story, especially when you're working with such a small sample size. Case in point: Luke Scott leads the American League with 14 RBI and he only has 32 at bats this season.

Long story short: this team isn't going to score 10 runs per game, especially not in April. Just be patient. The bats will heat up.

Outlook

Last night's game looked very familiar, though not in the doom-and-gloom, woe-is-our-bullpen sense that you may be thinking. Right now, the Rangers' lineup looks eerily similar to the 2011 Tigers' lineup that absolutely scorched their way through August and September. They are clicking on all cylinders, leading me to further hammer home the point that this series isn't too important in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, a win tonight would be nice, especially if Porcello pitches well for a 3rd straight start. However, losing 3 of 4 (or, heaven forbid, all four games in this series) is not the end of the world. The Tigers are running into a buzzsaw right now.

Prediction

Porcello, forced to operate out of the stretch more than he has in his first two starts, struggles to get through 5 innings.

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