Game 80 Preview: Tigers at Rays

USA TODAY Sports

Rick Porcello attempts to bounce back against the Rays on Sunday.

Detroit Tigers (43-36) at Tampa Bay Rays (42-39)

Time/Place: 1:40 p.m., Tropicana Field

SB Nation blog: DRaysBay

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (4-5, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (6-3, 5.11 ERA)

Today's pitching matchup features a pair of starting pitchers who have each had their share of struggles this season. Let's take a look at a chart with the vital statistics.

Pitcher GS IP
ERA
FIP
K/9
BB/9
HR/9
BABIP
WAR
Porcello 14 98.2 5.40 3.67 7.47 1.72 1.19 .289 1.3
Hellickson 16 78.1 5.11 4.00 6.75 2.10 1.15 .321 1.3

Click these links for a complete description of Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Hellickson is listed atop the depth chart on the Rays' MLB.com website, with reigning Cy Young winner David Price on the DL. He has managed to go at least five innings in every start this season, but has not made it through the sixth in half a dozen of those starts, and he has allowed five runs or more in six of them.

With Porcello firmly entrenched as the Tigers' fifth starter, a comparison of the numbers shows that the two pitchers are fairly evenly matched, except for wins and losses. Sabermetrically speaking, Porcello even has an edge were it not for the fact that Hellickson has made a couple more starts and taken his game for an extra twenty innings on the season.

Each pitcher is capable of a solid performance, and each has had very forgettable starts this season. Subtract Porcello's two starts against the Angels, and he has an ERA of 3.72, very close to his FIP. Hellickson also has a pair of starts where he was charged with eight runs in each, and if he were allowed a couple of Mulligans for those, his ERA would be 4.21. Unfortunately for both, such is not the case.

Hellickson is a fly ball pitcher, inducing ground balls just over 40% of the time. Porcello's GB rate is 52%, where it has been for his career. Porcello allows more balls in play to result in hits due to a combination of limited range in the infield defense, some luck, but mostly the fact that hitters are able to square up his two seam fastball all too frequently. His .313 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) this year may seem high, but his career BABIP is .312, so he isn't any more unlucky than usual.

The pitching match up today has to favor the Rays, if only because of the respective bullpens. Both clubs have struggled all season with their relief corps, but the Tigers have taxed their best relievers in recent days, with Benoit, Smyly, and Alburquerque all working at least two of the last three games. If Porcello can stay in the game for six innings,

Outlook

The Tigers hold a distinctive advantage in the run production department, although the Rays still score runs above the league average pace. The health status of Evan Longoria casts a shadow over the Rays offense, as the third baseman is easily the club's best run producer. James Loney and Kelly Johnson appear to have come to life and along with Ben Zobrist, are left handers who could give Porcello some problems.

It's too easy to say "if the Tiger bats come alive", so I'll dump that narrative just for the sake of variety. If Porcello can negotiate his way through six or seven innings, and get the ball to the two reliable relievers in the Tiger bullpen, Detroit's chances of pulling out a victory improve dramatically.

Prediction

In what Ernie Harwell would call "the rubber game of the series", Kid Rick bounces back, and guts out a solid performance. Jim Leyland will sit someone and start someone else, being a Sunday day game, and that will draw the ire of the Tigersphere.

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