Time/Place: 7:08 p.m. ET, Comerica Park
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, Tigers Radio Network
Opposing blog: Bucs Dugout
Pitching matchup: Jeanmar Gomez (2-0, 2.75 ERA) vs. Rick Porcello (2-2, 6.28)
A former middling Indian, Jeanmar Gomez has been a resounding success since joining the Pirates' rotation in place of Charlie Morton. But how's a guy with a career 4.82 ERA and 4.89 FIP suddenly cut it in half in Pittsburgh? Luck, for one. His 2013 FIP is actually 4.96. His strikeout rate has ticked up, but so has his walk rate. He's stranding runners at a 24 percent higher rate than in 2012 and 15 percent higher than his career figures. One positive you can say about Gomez: as a sinkerballer he is forcing batters to put the ball on the ground -- a career high 58 percent of the time -- and the Pirates have turned that into outs rather successfully. (The power of Inge!?)
Across the looking glass we have Rick Porcello starting for the Tigers. More or less, he's Gomez -- just a little better Gomez in most ways. He strikes batters out more frequently, walks them less frequently, and has the 4.54 FIP to show for it. The big differences between the pitchers: Porcello doesn't get ground balls quite as frequently, and he has not kept the ball in the park all that well this year: more than 20 percent of fly balls become home runs. That's a figure that's unusually high for Porcello, and it does seem likely to chalk at least part of it up to be a fluke. The state of Texas has been kind to Porcello either: starts in Houston and Arlington account for three home runs in just the past four games. Meanwhile at Comerica Park, Porcello has allowed just one home run in 96 plate appearances this year.
More reason for optimism? Porcello has started to strike out batters with some regularity. He has five-strikeouts-or-more in four of the past five games. Jeff Roberts of Eye on the Tigers recently noted (ht: Lee):
When Rick Porcello decided to ditch his slider this year, most people expected that it would be his curveball to show marked improvement since that was the pitch that he was substituting the slider for. Well so far, it's been the changeup that's shown much improvement.
According to Pitch f/x pitch values/100, Porcello's changeup has a value of 3.63 so far this year. That's not only the best value pitch for Porcello this year, it's the best value pitch that he's ever had (0 is average, positive results are above average, negative results are below average).
Generally we'd talk about the outlook for this particular game, but I'll put on a different spin: my outlook for the Pirates.
They sit 31-20 right now -- that's a record better than the Tigers have. They have not finished above .500 in 20 seasons -- that's 1992 -- when they were skippered by Jim Leyland. I think anyone but the cruelest haters-of-all-things-Pittsburgh are truly hoping they put together a winning season at last. But will that winning season result in the playoffs?
SB Nation's Cliff Corcoran tackled that question last week, noting the Pirates have upgraded several positions on a team that actually had a pretty good start (but awful finish) in 2012. Yet ... pitching, pitching, pitching. It's why it's easy to have confidence in the Tigers making a deep playoff run, and it's why Corcoran isn't optimistic about the Pirates:
Even with run scoring trending downward around the league and the Pirates playing in a pitcher-friendly ballpark with a much improved defense (thanks in large part to Marte and Martin the Pirates have far and away the best Park Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in the majors), they simply cannot sustain their current level of run prevention
Looking closer at Gomez is just one example of that. The outlook for the Pirates overall seems positive overall, but it's still hard to believe in their playoff chances are more than -- as Corcoran wrote -- a dream.