Detroit Tigers (15-11) at Houston Astros (8-20)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
SB Nation blog: Crawfish Boxes
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (1-2, 8.84 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Lyles (5-12, 5.09 ERA in 2012)
Lyles is a promising 22 year old right-hander who already has a combined 68 starts between Triple-A and the majors in his career. He was ranked as the #42 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season. He struggled throughout the 2012 season with the Astros, never letting his ERA dip below 5.00 after June 3rd. He ended the season on a high note, pitching a four hit shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was sent back to Triple-A this season after a horrific spring in which he allowed 23 earned runs in just 11 2/3 innings. He has toned things down a bit in the minors, but is still allowing 11.4 hits per nine innings and only has 11 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings. His 3.58 FIP and .345 BABIP in the minors may indicate that he's pitching better than we think, though.
After writing the above paragraph and looking at Lyles' minor league stats, I can't help but draw parallels between him and Porcello. Both are tall right-handers who were fast-tracked to the big leagues out of high school. Both rely on getting groundball outs and don't strikeout many hitters. The only difference so far, aside from age and experience, is Porcello's success in his rookie season. Both pitchers throw their fastball at 92-93 miles per hour, utilizing a mix of four and two-seamers. Both have a curveball that averages about 80 miles per hour. Lyles goes to his more often with two strikes. Porcello uses his changeup a lot more often than Lyles does, and will throw his to both right and left-handed hitters, while Lyles uses his almost exclusively against lefties.
In his last start, Porcello used his four-seam fastball much more often than he did in his abomination of an outing in Los Angeles. He also took a couple miles per hour off of both of his fastballs, sitting around his normal 91-92 mile per hour range. In Los Angeles, he was averaging 94 miles per hour -- remember, when the sinker is thrown harder it tends to flatten out -- which may have had something to do with his struggles. He also went to his changeup and curveball more often, but this could be due to the fact that he didn't have as many guys on base. It will be interesting to see if the changes he made to his release point stick around tonight.
Who are the 2013 Astros?
The Astros are the only American League team with single digit wins, but this is largely due to the fact that their Opening Day payroll was a meager $26,105,600. The Tigers will be paying Justin Verlander more money than that in 2015.
This doesn't mean that the Astros don't have talent, though. Diminutive second baseman Jose Altuve is fifth in the American League with a .336 batting average and his 39 hits are tied for the league lead. Center fielder Justin Maxwell was beginning to come into his own this season before a broken hand knocked him out of the lineup for a month or two. We won't see him this season, unfortunately. Slugger Chris Carter doesn't hit for a high average, but would probably earn the nickname "Country Strong 2.0" from Rod Allen if he were a Tiger.
Former Tiger Carlos Pena is still walking and striking out a ton and... well, not much else. Matt Dominguez and Marwin Gonzalez aren't hitting well as of late, but they have been above average at third and shortstop, respectively, this season. Expect more great defense from them in this series.
Rick Ankiel has one walk and 32 strikeouts in 54 plate appearances
He also has five home runs, so you get the idea of what he's thinking when he steps into the batter's box.
I hate to put labels on games like "must win" or "should win," but it would really suck if the Tigers didn't win at least three games in this series. Lyles seems to be getting Porcello'd in the minor leagues after getting Brad Penny'd during the spring, but former starter Brad Peacock wasn't cutting it in the rotation either. Porcello himself hasn't been great this year either, but he is coming off his best outing of the season, which should give him some confidence going forward. The Astros are capable of putting up runs -- they're 8th in the league, which isn't bad considering their record -- but they have struck out more often than any other AL team. Expect more off-speed pitches from Porcello today to keep their aggressive lineup at bay.
Porcello pitches well again and the Tigers' offense adds late insurance runs for the win.