Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (34-43) at Detroit Tigers (42-33)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Tommy Hanson's best outing of the season came against the Tigers back on April 19th. He allowed six hits and four walks, but stranded eight baserunners en route to six shutout innings. He pitched well in his next couple starts, but missed a good chunk of May while on the restricted list. He has a 6.86 ERA since returning, but this is largely due to his last start. He allowed seven runs in just two innings against the Seattle Mariners, but didn't take a loss thanks to the Angels' comeback against Felix Hernandez.
Hanson's fastball velocity has been steadily declining since his debut in 2009, but his strikeout rate has dropped by over two batters per nine innings compared to last season. He is allowing fly balls at a 44.4% clip, the ninth-highest rate in the American League among pitchers with at least 40 innings pitched. Naturally, this has inflated his overall home run rate, but his 12.5% home run-to-fly ball ratio is consistent with his numbers in 2011 and 2012.
You would expect that this would translate to some significant home/road splits -- Angels Stadium is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball -- but he has actually been much better on the road. In three road starts, Hanson is 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.294 WHIP.
How long can Jose Alvarez keep this up? He had to battle in his last start, but allowed just two runs in five innings against the Boston Red Sox. Aside from his major league success, the biggest surprise of the season is that Alvarez has rediscovered his ability to strike batters out. In 36 starts at Double-A in the Miami Marlins' system, Alvarez struck out just 115 batters in 202 innings. This season, he has 94 strikeouts in 92 innings between Triple-A and the majors. He won't continue to strike out a batter per inning at the major league level, but this trend makes Alvarez a valuable asset going forward. Would the Tigers consider adding him to the bullpen? As scary as the idea of Casey Crosby being the emergency starter is, so is whatever happened last night.
The Angels primer that I didn't do yesterday
The Angels have become a punch line across baseball thanks to the poor starts from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton this season. Pujols seems to have broken out of his funk -- he's hitting .289/.359/.522 in June -- but Hamilton is still floundering away at a .214/.269/.382 clip. Mike Trout is doing things nobody has ever done before but WAR seems to hate his defense this season. Centerfielder Peter Bourjos is having a nice season, but hurt his hand sliding into a base over the weekend and likely won't pick up a bat in this series. Howie Kendrick is having the best season nobody has heard about, hitting .321/.364/.466 with eight home runs.
So how are they so bad? Their pitching staff has allowed a 4.41 ERA, third worst in the AL. Their FIP and xFIP are closer to the middle of the pack. Jered Weaver missed almost two months with a broken forearm and has struggled to regain his top-of-the-rotation form. Joe Blanton is 1-10 with a 5.26 ERA, but still continues to start over Jerome Williams, who is 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA. Garrett Richards has struggled against teams that aren't the Tigers, and is now pitching out of the bullpen.
While Alvarez's minor league numbers are spectacular this season, his splits are a bit concerning for tonight's game. Right-handed batters have a .671 OPS off him this year compared to a .448 OPS against lefties. The Angels will have at least seven right-handed hitters in their lineup, but this surprisingly hasn't led to good splits against left-handed pitchers. The Angels have a .702 OPS against southpaw starters this season compared to a .765 OPS against right-handed starters.
On the other side, Hanson has allowed left-handed batters to hit .315/.368/.556 this season. With guys like Prince Fielder and Andy Dirks seemingly breaking out of their respective recent slumps, this could spell trouble for Hanson. The Tigers were able to get baserunners on last time, but couldn't capitalize. I don't know if that happens a second time.
Alvarez's solid run continues and the Tigers pick up a W.