Game 85 Preview: Rays at Tigers

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers will look to salvage a series split with the Rays tonight on ESPN. Standing in their way is Tampa Bay's ace, David Price.

Tampa Bay Rays (40-50) at Detroit Tigers (48-36)

Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: DRaysBay

Media: ESPN, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (7-7, 3.50 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (11-4, 3.12 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Price 18 131.0 10.51 1.17 1.17 1.08 2.94 2.49 3.0
Porcello 16 106.2 5.23 2.03 0.76 1.13 3.75 4.11 1.8

David Price struggled in his last start, walking three hitters en route to his shortest start since mid-May. Well, sort of. Price held the New York Yankees to one run on four hits in seven innings, striking out nine. The strikeout total was his lowest since May 30th, snapping a streak of five consecutive outings with double digit strikeouts. He has lasted at least five innings in every start this season, and has finished six or more innings in all but two of his starts. There have been a few missteps -- he has allowed at least five runs in five starts this season -- but make no mistake: Price is one of the best pitchers in baseball.

It's tough to find a place to begin when describing Price's ridiculous peripherals this season. He is striking out 10.5 batters per nine innings while walking just over one. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is 9.00, by far the best of his career. Opposing batters are actually getting a bit lucky on home run balls, giving Price an xFIP of 2.57. Price's .314 BABIP is also the highest of his career despite a 19.4 percent line drive rate. Left-handed hitters have a slightly higher OPS than righties this year, but historically Price has been hell on lefties with a .556 career OPS allowed. His one weak point may be on the first pitch of an at-bat. Price throws first pitch strikes over 70 percent of the time, but opponents are hitting .429 with a .714 slugging average on first pitch swings.

Of course, Rick Porcello hasn't been too bad himself lately. He is currently on a 25 inning scoreless streak, including back-to-back shutouts against the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics. He is throwing his two-seam fastball more often lately at the expense of his slider, resulting in a huge jump in ground ball rate. He recorded a whopping 17 outs on ground balls in his last start, but failed to record a strikeout. Porcello's 6.9 percent whiff rate is his lowest since 2011, while his strikeout rate has taken a step back to pre-2013 standards. However, improvements to his strand rate and home run rate have kept opponents off the scoreboard and him in games. Fun fact: Porcello leads the Tigers' rotation in innings per start.

Hitter to fear: Desmond Jennings (.300/.300/.300 in 10 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Evan Longoria (.125/.300/.125 in 10 plate appearances)

Porcello has put up some excellent numbers against the Rays in his career, holding them to a 2.73 ERA in five starts. Desmond Jennings is the only Rays hitter with three hits against Porcello, but all are singles. James Loney and Jose Molina have both doubled in the past, but Porcello has yet to give up a homer against the Rays. Evan Longoria leads a trio of Rays -- Matt Joyce and Ben Zobrist the other two -- who are 1-for-8 off Porcello. Longoria has struck out in three of those at-bats.

To no one's surprise, Price has been quite good against the Tigers. In seven career appearances (five starts), Price has a 4-1 record and 2.23 ERA. He has absolutely baffled Miguel Cabrera, holding him to just one hit in 16 plate appearances. The lone Tigers hitter with a solid track record against Price is Victor Martinez, who will probably miss the game due to the oblique injury he re-aggravated on Friday.

Outlook

Well, this should be fun. Price has been a menace lately, allowing a 2.12 ERA in his last six starts. He has 63 strikeouts to eight walks in just 46 2/3 innings during this stretch, and opponents are getting on base at a .239 clip. Porcello has been nearly as good, allowing just 17 baserunners in his last 24 innings of work. His ERA has dropped by nearly a full run during this stretch, giving him an outside shot at an All-Star appearance. If he pitches well again tonight and picks up a 12th win, don't be surprised to see him on the AL roster later this week. I wouldn't get my hopes up, though.

Prediction

Porcello returns to earth tonight and the Rays win their third straight.

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