Game 29 Preview: Astros at Tigers

Bob Levey

The Tigers are the hottest team in baseball right now, winners of seven in a row. Can they keep it rolling tonight against the Astros?

Houston Astros (10-23) at Detroit Tigers (19-9)

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

SB Nation blog: The Crawfish Boxes

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Brad Peacock (0-2, 5.26 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (4-1, 3.66 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Peacock 3 25.2 8.42 7.01 0.70 1.87 4.62 5.08 0.1
Porcello 5 32.0 6.19 1.13 0.84 1.00 3.36 3.40 0.7

Brad Peacock's ugly start to the 2014 season is slightly misleading, as eight of the 15 earned runs he has allowed have come in four relief appearances. He made his first start on April 20th against the Oakland Athletics and has a 3.94 ERA in three starts. His 5.36 FIP in those 16 innings is thanks to a 13:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The command is definitely the issue for Peacock, who struck out nearly a batter per inning in 2013. He has already walked at least three hitters in each of his starts, including a whopping six (!) in his second start against the A's on April 25th. He has not been helped by his defense either, allowing two unearned runs in both of his last two starts.

Peacock has attacked hitters with a standard four-pitch mix in 2014. His fastball sits in the 93-94 mile per hour range, and he does a good job of hitting the strike zone with it. You could argue that he's too good at keeping his fastball in the strike zone, as opposing batters are hitting .320 with a .560 slugging average on the pitch this season. His best pitch is his slider, which was a new development in 2013. Peacock struggled in the first half of the season, allowing an 8.07 ERA in 29 innings. He was sent down to the minors and returned two months later to post a 3.64 ERA while striking out a batter per inning in August and September. Peacock also throws a curveball and changeup, the latter of which doesn't get used against righties, who are hitting .333/.421/.576 against him this year. Don't expect that to continue, however, as he held righties to a .594 OPS last season.

Rick Porcello is coming off his third great start of the 2014 season, though he has alternated good and bad outings so far this year. He held the Kansas City Royals to two runs on four hits in seven innings, striking out six. Surprisingly, five of those six strikeouts came on fastballs. Porcello has started to use his two-seam as a wipeout pitch against left-handed hitters with two strikes, aiming inside off the plate and letting the pitch swing back to the inside corner. He froze Norichika Aoki and Mike Moustakas (twice) in this fashion in his last start, and got Alex Gordon to swing over a fastball in that location for another strikeout.

Hitter to fear: Jason Castro (.333/.333/1.333 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jose Altuve (.000/.000/.000 in 3 plate appearances)

No Astros player has more than three career plate appearances against Rick Porcello, who allowed three runs on five hits in a start against them last year. All three of the Astros' runs came on home runs, one of which was hit by Jason Castro. Dexter Fowler is the only other Astro with a hit against Porcello, while Matt Dominguez is 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts. Brad Peacock has never faced the Tigers, but has held Ian Kinsler to a single in six at-bats. Rajai Davis is hitless in three plate appearances against Peacock.

Outlook

Things have played out as one would have expected coming into this series, with the Tigers battering an awful Astros relief corps en route to a pair of victories. These two clubs have the worst bullpens in baseball in terms of ERA, but peripheral numbers suggest that the Tigers should be closer to the middle of the pack. Their pen has the lowest walk rate in the AL, while the Astros are allowing 4.19 base on balls per nine innings (yet, none in this series). Peacock has struggled to work deep into games during his young career, totaling just three outings of seven innings or more in 2013. He has yet to pitch into the seventh this year and has not thrown more than 92 pitches in a start. If the Tigers can get his pitch count elevated, expect another late inning offensive surge.

Prediction

The Tigers keep rolling thanks to another strong outing from Porcello.

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