Game 1 Preview: Tigers at Twins

J. Meric

It's official: baseball is back. The Tigers open their 2013 season today against Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

Detroit Tigers (0-0) at Minnesota Twins (0-0)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Target Field

SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA in 2012) vs. RHP Vance Worley (6-9, 4.20 ERA in 2012)

Worley fell off a bit for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2012, winning just six games with a 4.20 ERA. His 3.85 FIP and .340 BABIP hint that he might have been better than his traditional stat line implicates. However, his strikeout rate dipped by nearly a full batter per nine innings compared to his 2011 campaign when he finished third in Rookie of the Year award voting. The Twins saw Worley's potential -- especially if he can decrease his walk rate -- and traded outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies in exchange for him this offseason. Worley's numbers weren't pretty during the spring, but he struck out 13 batters to just three walks in 22 innings. He has never faced the Tigers.

If you believe in the "soft-tossing pitcher is the bane of the Tigers' existence" theory, then look away. Worley relies primarily on a fast-ball slider combination, with his fastballs -- both the four- and two-seam varieties -- averaging just a hair under 90 miles per hour in 2012. His four seam fastball has a natural cutting action, which pairs well with his two-seamer. He throws his slider 22% of the time while mixing in a curveball or changeup on occasion. His high strikeout rate is surprising given that none of his pitches generate a whiff rate above 7-8% and his swinging strike percentage was one of the lowest figures in the National League at just 5.5%.

By comparison, Verlander generated a swinging strike percentage of 11.7% last season, eighth in all of baseball. All five of his pitches -- both fastballs, slider, curve, and changeup -- had higher whiff percentages than any of Worley's in 2012, led by a whopping 19.8% whiff rate on his slider. However, Verlander's fastball and curveball were his best pitches in 2012 according to PitchFX, weighing in at a whopping 13.8 and 11.8 runs above average, respectively. That's why he can do things like this to opposing hitters on Opening Day.

Verlander_k_medium

Closest Taco Bell to Target Field: 0.6 miles


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DON'T PITCH TO JOE MAUER

Mauer is a career .351/.456/.561 hitter off of Verlander and was in full-on LASERSHOW mode during Spring Training, hitting .452/.553/.613 in 38 plate appearances.

Outlook

Hopefully the Tigers took a few notes from last night's Rangers-Astros game, including the following:

  • "Don't underestimate a supposed bottom-feeder during their home opener."
  • "Oh, so that's how you're supposed to use a left-handed starting pitcher out of the bullpen."
  • "DON'T PITCH TO JOE MAUER."

There won't be a game this season with Verlander on the mound that the Tigers won't expect to win, and today should be no different. Between the cold and the fact that they have never seen Worley before, expect the offense to stumble out of the gate, but come around in the middle innings once they have gone through the order a couple times.

Prediction

Verlander can't quite match last year's masterful Opening Day performance, but he pitches into the 8th inning as the Tigers start the season with a victory.

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