Detroit Tigers (22-16) at Texas Rangers (26-14)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Rangers Ballpark in Arlington
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (4-3, 1.93 ERA) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (6-1, 2.73 ERA)
Thanks to the wonders of technology, I could just post this GIF of Darvish and call it good. It's definitely going in place of the part where I describe a pitcher's arsenal, because look at it.
However, I don't think that tells the whole story. Darvish has been very, very good to start the season, but he hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of opponents to start the year. Seven of his eight starts have been against teams -- the Angels, Astros, Mariners, and White Sox -- in the bottom third of the American League in just about every major statistical category. I'm not saying he has just fattened up on the bottom feeders of the AL -- striking out 14 against the Boston Red Sox is no small feat -- but it does tarnish this "best pitcher evarrr" piece a bit.'
Other than that, there's not much to say about him that doesn't involve effusive praise. He is striking out 13.67 batters per nine innings, a number so high I can't even think of a ridiculous adjective to put in front of it. He has cut down his walk rate considerably, but still loses more hitters than your prototypical ace. He is stranding more runners, which tends to happen when you have a strikeout rate higher than Brayan Villarreal's ERA (sorry Erin). He is allowing a line drive rate of just 13.5% and a BABIP of .253, and I'm having a hard time seeing much regression when my eyes keep drifting back up to that GIF. If the Tigers are going to get to Darvish, it will have to be via a patient approach, working counts to get runners on base. Actually driving those runners in would also be helpful.
Verlander, on the other hand, wasn't very good in his last start. He didn't have a fastball of any sort, which is kind of a problem who built most of his reputation (to national media types, at least) on the 100 mile per hour heat. He is still sitting at a lower velocity than in previous seasons, but started to ramp things up a bit in his last start when the command wasn't there. Is this part of the reason why we got 2009 Justin Verlander for a few innings? Possibly. I can't imagine him not having the fastball command for a second consecutive start, though. He should be fine tonight.
Closest Taco Bell to Rangers Ballpark: 1.4 miles
Long (star) ball
It seems like every time the Tigers go to Texas, the Rangers have the best record in the American League and have won like 9 of their last 12 games... which happens to be the case once again. Their pitching has been better than expected, ranking second in the majors in fWAR (the Tigers are first by a mile). Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando have been better than expected, while Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm have held their own as placeholders for guys on the disabled list. Their offense ranks second in the AL in slugging percentage and first in home runs, but they are only seventh in the league in runs scored. If the Tigers' pitching staff can continue to limit the long ball, the Rangers may have trouble stringing runs together.
Often, big pitching matchups like this get overhyped and one guy goes out and allows four runs in the first inning. I mean, the last time the Tigers were in a marquee pitching matchup like this they... ok, bad example.
For those too lazy to click the link in the previous sentence, the Tigers watched Max Scherzer go toe-to-toe with Felix Hernandez for eight innings earlier this season. Given how well both Darvish and Verlander have been pitching this year -- and no disrespect to King Felix -- this one might be better. I think the Rangers have been a little too reliant on the home run ball this season without Josh Hamilton in the lineup, and Verlander has been better than ever about keeping opposing hitters in the park. Darvish worked the Tigers in each of his three starts against them last season, but they did a good job of working his pitch count. I think they break through tonight.
Verlander outlasts Darvish, allowing one run through seven innings for his fifth win.