Game 157 Preview: Tigers at Twins

Duane Burleson

Five and a half months ago, the Tigers and Twins kicked off their respective 2013 seasons at Target Field. Tonight, they begin their final week of the season. Justin Verlander and Mike Pelfrey are the starting pitchers.

Detroit Tigers (91-65) at Minnesota Twins (65-90)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field

SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town

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

Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.66 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (5-13, 5.34 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Verlander 32 206.1 8.51 3.10 0.83 1.33 3.44 3.81 4.5
Pelfrey 28 146.2 5.89 3.07 0.80 1.55 4.03 4.63 2.0

This will be Pelfrey's fifth start against the Tigers this season, but it doesn't feel like it. Sure, Pelfrey feels a bit unfamiliar considering the Tigers have only seen him once since the beginning of June -- and this is only their second series against the Twins since the All-Star Break. In his first four starts, Pelfrey has allowed 14 runs (12 earned) in 23 innings. All 12 of the earned runs came in three starts at Comerica Park, while the two unearned runs came at Target Field back in April.

Overall, Pelfrey has had the types of ups-and-downs that you would expect out of a guy with a season-long ERA over five. His last three starts have been particularly bad. Pelfrey has allowed 16 runs (15 earned) in his last 13 1/3 innings, 13 of which came in nine combined innings at Target Field. Those last two starts have skewed his season-long splits. Going into September, Pelfrey had allowed a 5.32 ERA at home. Now, that figure is up to 6.14 in 13 home starts this season.

For the second time this season, Justin Verlander got tripped up by the Japanese sinker monster known as Hisashi Iwakuma. Verlander pitched decently, allowing three runs on just four hits in seven innings, but an awful offense and worse bullpen resulted in his 12th loss of the season.

Despite a 1-2 record in September, Verlander seems to be getting back on track. He has a 3.25 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 4.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last four starts. He isn't quite up to his usual strikeout-per-inning standard -- he has 26 in 27 2/3 innings this month -- but his other peripherals are looking as promising as we have seen this season.

Playoff rotation implications

Ok, so the header is a bit misleading. If Rick Porcello's turn through the rotation isn't skipped on Thursday's off day, Verlander will start the final game of the regular season on September 29th. The ALDS begins on Friday, October 4th, meaning every starter will be on full rest (and then some) come playoff time. I imagine Jim Leyland will keep his rotation intact, then start the playoffs with Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer in Games 1 and 2 before turning things over to Verlander and Doug Fister in Games 3 and 4. One other plausible scenario is skipping Porcello in the rotation to keep Anibal Sanchez on a normal four days rest schedule for a possible Game 1 start,

Long story short: Jim Leyland has a full deck of cards when deciding his playoff rotation.

Outlook

Pelfrey's track record against the Tigers -- first start of the season in frigid temperatures nonwithstanding -- doesn't bode well for the Twins. Pelfrey doesn't have any gaudy platoon splits like some of the pitchers the Tigers faced on their last homestand, but he has allowed an OPS above .900 to six Tigers with at least nine career plate appearances against him. Even better: every current Tiger that has ever faced Pelfrey in a regular season game has a hit off him.

Prediction

The magic number drops to 1 tonight after Verlander gets back on track for win number 14.

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