Game 54 preview: Tigers at Orioles

Baltimore Orioles DH Chris Dickerson is mobbed at home plate after his walk-off home run off Jose Valverde - Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Verlander takes the mound against Jason Hammel to stop the Tigers four-game losing streak. All eyes will be on Valverde should he enter the game, but the Orioles' Jim Johnson hasn't been much better.

Detroit Tigers (29-24) at Baltimore Orioles (31-24)

Time/Place: 4:05 p.m. ET, Camden Yards

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, Tigers Radio Network

Opposing blog: Camden Chat

Pitching matchup: Justin Verlander (6-4, 3.68) vs. Jason Hammel (7-2, 4.98)

Justin Verlander's recent struggles have been well-documented. When your Cy Young-winning ace who just signed a seven-year, $180 million dollar contract goes 2-2 with an 8.69 ERA over his last four starts, there is reason to be concerned. His last start gave fans a reason to be optimistic; Verlander pitched seven strong innings, recording 13 strikeouts and only giving up three runs.

Jason Hammel was the Orioles' Opening Day starter this year. The 30-year-old right hander stands 6'6 and features five pitches: a two and four-seam fastball from 92 to 95 mph, a slider, a curveball, and a change-up. The slider is his favorite strikeout pitch off his off-speed offerings, and he scraps the change against lefties.

Hammel sports an ERA of 4.98 and a FIP of 4.32, both only slightly higher than career averages. His peripherals are all near career averages, though he is striking out 1.7 less batters per nine innings this year than last year.

Hammel's two best years were 2009 and 2010 with the Rockies, who traded him to the Orioles for Jeremy Guthrie before the 2012 season. Hammel hasn't been great for the O's, but they won the trade by default because Guthrie simply could not pitch at Coors Field, and the Rockies traded him for Jonathan Sanchez, whom the Royals had designated for assignment.

Hammel went through an absolutely awful patch earlier this season, but he's won his last two starts, including his last start, his best of the season. He held Washington to two runs over eight innings while striking out eight.

Outlook

The Tigers need a win. They've lost four straight, and Justin Verlander is the ace who is counted on to stop losing streaks. Hopefully the offense can put together a big enough lead to avoid a save situation, but if it's a tight game, Leyland will rely on Jose Valverde. Valverde's struggles don't need to be reiterated, but Baltimore's closer, Jim Johnson, isn't doing much better. In 2012, Johnson successfully closed down 51 games, but this year he has already surpassed his blown-saves total from last year and features an ERA of 4.85. In this series, no game will be over till it's over.

Keep an eye on which pitchers are able to continue in the right direction (or in Valverde's case, stop running backwards). Both these offenses have the ability to make a pitcher leave early or blow it late. Let's hope Verlander and Valverde pitch well and the two V's can make a W.

Prediction

Verlander continues the recent phenomenal starting pitches and gets back to must-see JV. Someone gets a save, possibly after a save is blown. It should be fun, at the very least.

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