Game 52 preview: Tigers at Pirates

USA TODAY Sports

After being stymied for much of the past two games, the Tigers face another Pirates pitcher who has everything going for him.

Pittsburgh Pirates (33-20) at Detroit Tigers (29-22)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m. ET, PNC Park

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, Tigers Radio Network

Opposing blog: Bucs Dugout

Pitching matchup: Doug Fister (5-2. 3.65) vs. Jeff Locke (5-1, 2.45)

The Pirates continue throwing awesome starting pitcher after awesome starting pitcher again the Tigers this evening when Jeff Locke takes the mound -- yet again compelling the question "how is he doing it?"

Locke doesn't strike out many. He does get batters to put the ball on the ground about half the time. His walk rate, while not bad, isn't as outstanding either. Add it up and you get an FIP of 4.27 -- again, not bad, but far worse than the 2.45 ERA Locke enters the game with. Yet he's coming off a pair of games he went six-innings-or-more without allowing a run. Just twice in his last seven games has he allowed three-or-more runs.

One curiosity: Locke does not throw hard, and he seems to be more effective when he throws fewer strikes -- just 40 percent of his pitches are in the strike zone, according to PitchFX on FanGraphs. Locke also credited limiting home runs for his increase and success when he spoke with FanGraphs recently if you want to listen to the whole audio. "It's tough for me to cope with that there's a time in my career I thought like I just don't know if I can pitch here," Locke said. "There's only so many times you can lose before you don't want to be a part of this anymore. I had to put my foot down and say, is this really the way I want to go out? If I'm not going to be successful in the big leagues, can I really handle that? No I couldn't. I needed to change the mind set and to be more aggressive."

Batters have actually not chased outside the strike zone as much, and when they swing they've been making contact more often. What's truly helped is that batters have just put the ball right at the defense: a .224 BABIP is probably not sustainable. Whether the Tigers can get to him and drive it up will be the question.

As for Fister, he seems to be locked into consistently allowing three runs. He's done it in four of his last seven games, with appearances of two, five and five runs allowed mixed in. He hasn't gotten himself into much trouble. Batters aren't walking, and they haven't been hitting homers. But each game there's one or two innings where he gets knocked around a bit, and a couple of games where that occured in the first inning or two. A stronger start might go a long way.

Outlook

The Tigers have lost two of three games in this series and need to win to earn a split. (I'm calling this a four-game series despite the fact the teams changed locations midway through.) Right now, it's certainly not the most embarrassing thing in the world to lose to the Pirates. They're preventing runs and winning games. They're definitely hot at eight wins in their last 10 games. Earning a split seems like a pretty equitable outcome.

But the Tigers have got to hit better. They're batting .238 as a team with just .342 slugging in the past seven days. The re-awakening of the middle of the lineup would help. Prince Fielder's last homer was May 10 and he's hit just .224 with six extra-base hits during that span. Victor Martinez has batted .268 with just .279 OBP in his last 15 games, with two extra-base hits.

The outlook would be a lot more positive if they'd both come alive behind Miguel Cabrera.

Prediction:

94

More Roars:

Pirates 5, Tigers 3: 7th inning dooms Sanchez

Thursday’s links

Saves are bunk but better than losses

Beer of the Series: Pittsburgh

Extending Austin Jackson makes sense

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