Detroit Tigers (21-12) at Baltimore Orioles (20-15)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Bud Norris failed to deliver a burst of production down the stretch for the Orioles last season, putting up a 4.80 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in 11 appearances (nine starts) after he was acquired from the Houston Astros. He struck out over a batter per inning in that stretch, but walked 24 in just 50 2/3 innings. The walk rate has been much better so far in 2014, but his strikeout rate has been nearly halved.
Norris' worst start of the young season came back on April 5th at Comerica Park, when the Tigers knocked him around for five runs on nine hits in five innings. Since then, he has a 2.97 ERA in 30 1/3 innings with 23 strikeouts to 11 walks. While he has allowed a fair share of baserunners -- though fewer than his usual amount -- he has been exceptional once runners reach base. Opposing batters are hitting just .129/.129/.258 with runners in scoring position compared to .349/.461/.556 with the bases empty. This has resulted in an 81% strand rate, a number that is awfully difficult to maintain for an entire season.
Rick Porcello was the winning pitcher when the Tigers faced Norris last month, but most of the six runs allowed in that matchup were not his doing. Porcello gave up one run on just three hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched, setting off the "Rick Porcello breakout season" alarm throughout the Tigers fanbase. Porcello has continued that vibe throughout the year and was solid again in his last outing. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings against the Astros, topping the 100-pitch mark for the third time this season. After being treated with kid gloves for most of his career, Porcello has now thrown 100 pitches or more in 11 of his last 16 starts dating back to last August. He doesn't get very far beyond that -- 106 pitches is his highest total during this stretch -- but the days of an effective Porcello being pulled after 80-odd pitches appear to be over.
Nick Markakis continued to torment Porcello in their last meeting, picking up one of the three Orioles hits that day. Seven of his nine career hits off Porcello have been singles. J.J. Hardy and the now-healthy Chris Davis have also hit well against Porcello, with Davis responsible for three home runs in 15 at-bats. The right-handed sluggers of the Orioles' lineup have struggled, with Adam Jones the low man on the totem pole. He and Nelson Cruz are a combined 7-for-44 off Porcello with zero extra base hits.
The Orioles have been on a roll lately, winning five of their last six and eight of their last 11 games. They haven't exactly been an offensive juggernaut during that stretch, scoring just 40 runs. Instead, their pitching staff has carried the load. They have allowed just over three runs per game during the aforementioned 11 game stretch and are 9-3 in one-run games this weekend. The team that can muster some offense will likely win this series, and Norris' unsustainable work out of the stretch doesn't give off a positive vibe for the Orioles tonight. Expect the Tigers to run at every opportunity with Matt Wieters on the disabled list.
Porcello makes an early lead stand up and the bullpen recovers to close out a win.