Game 103 Preview: Tigers at Phillies

Jim McIsaac

Max Scherzer and Cliff Lee headline this week's "best pitching matchup of the season" as the Tigers and Phillies continue their three game series.

Philadelphia Phillies at Detroit Tigers

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: The Good Phight

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

Pitching Matchup: LHP Cliff Lee (10-4, 3.05 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (14-1, 3.14 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Lee 20 144.2 8.15 1.37 1.00 1.01 3.17 3.18 2.8
Scherzer 20 137.2 10.26 2.03 0.92 0.95 2.81 2.77 4.0

Note: Cliff Lee is not starting today for the Phillies. Left-hander Raul Valdes will take the mound instead. Instead of me trying to politely say "he's not that good," just read the below information about Lee and lower your expectations.

The last time Clifton Phifer Lee toed the rubber at Comerica Park, he was a member of the Seattle Mariners in 2010. He allowed one run in eight innings while striking out 11... and then was traded to the Texas Rangers five days later. His career numbers against the Tigers aren't pretty -- he's 6-9 with a 4.52 ERA in 21 starts against them -- but his numbers at Comerica Park are pretty solid. That said, unless Miguel Cabrera returns tonight, Austin Jackson is the only Tigers player likely to start who was in the lineup when Lee last faced them.

As for this season, Lee is putting up the same stellar numbers he has for the Phillies since they signed him in 2011. His 5.95 strikeout-to-walk ratio is second in all of baseball and he is averaging 7 1/3 innings per start. His line drive rate has increased by over 4% since last season, but his home run rate has declined. His 70.1% first strike percentage is second in the MLB among qualified pitchers.

Like usual, Lee is relying heavily on his fastball. He throws his two-seamer most often -- anywhere from 40% to 58% of the time, depending on which site you pull your PitchFX data from -- and uses his cutter roughly 18% of the time. He throws the cutter more often to left-handed hitters while throwing his changeup almost exclusively to right-handers. He throws the occasional curveball to both right and left-handers with two strikes as well. The fastball is his bread and butter, though. Opposing batters are hitting just .198 off it with a .125 ISO.

Speaking of guys with dominating fastballs, Scherzer shut down the White Sox in his last start, allowing just two runs -- each on solo home runs -- in eight strong innings. He only struck out five hitters, his lowest total of the season, but needed just 105 pitches to get through the eighth. Had the Tigers not tacked on three runs in the top of the ninth, we may very well have seen Scherzer get a shot at his first career complete game.

Scherzer has been trying to throw a curveball more often 2013, and it was more apparent than ever in his last start. He threw 10 curveballs, but only three went for strikes. Neither of the home runs were off curveballs, but the homer by Conor Gillaspie in the eighth inning was on a 1-0 count after Scherzer missed low with a curve. While it may already be a decent swing-and-miss pitch -- opposing hitters have a 10% whiff rate on the curveball this season -- Scherzer's ascent to the ace level will become a bit easier if he can throw the curve for a "get-me-over" strike to keep hitters off balance.

Outlook

If the Tigers are going to get to Lee, it will probably have to be early. He has been a bit shaky as of late, allowing 16 earned runs in his last 26 1/3 innings. The Dodgers and Mets both got to Lee in the first inning during this span, and while the Dodgers didn't quite finish the job -- Lee still pitched seven innings and struck out 10 -- the Mets were able to score five runs in six innings off him. He has been very homer prone during this span, allowing nine dingers in his last four starts.

Prediction

Lee and Scherzer go toe-to-toe for seven innings but the Tigers walk off on the Phillies' bullpen.

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