American League (38-43-2) vs. National League (43-38-2)
Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., Citi Field
SB Nation blog: All of them
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (13-1, 3.19 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Harvey (7-2, 2.35 ERA)
Matt Harvey is somewhat good at pitching, in case you haven't heard. He has 11 starts this year in which he has gone at least seven innings while allowing two runs or fewer. He could easily have as many wins as Max if the New York Mets had some semblance of an offense, but... well, these are the Mets we're talking about here. In his last 15 starts, he has a 2.76 ERA but just a 3-2 record. The Mets are just 11-8 in games that he has started this season. By comparison, the Tigers are 15-4 when Max takes the mound.
To no one's surprise, Harvey's success is built largely on the effectiveness of his fastball. Harvey's heater has been worth 2.13 runs above average per 100 pitches, the best rate in baseball. It averages 96.5 miles per hour, and he has touched 99 multiple times in starts that I have watched. He throws it over 50% of the time overall, and nearly two-thirds of the time on the first pitch of an at-bat. He's far from a one trick pony, however. His slider, curveball, and changeup have all been above average pitches. The changeup -- often cited as his worst pitch as he rose through the minors -- is 2.11 runs above average per 100 pitches.
There aren't many statistical parallels between the two, but I see a lot of Justin Verlander in Harvey. Like Verlander did early in his career, Harvey hasn't shied away from lighting up the radar gun early in games. He was consistently hitting 97 miles per hour in the first inning of his start against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals and seems to get jacked up for big games -- he was brilliant in both the aforementioned start against the Nationals and his start against the New York Yankees in late May.
Tigers fans are well aware of how great Scherzer has been this year, vaulting himself into contention for legitimate ace status. For fans of other teams who got lost looking for that damn flowchart thing, Mad Max has made the jump into the baseball stratosphere by limiting left-handers to hitting just .216/.272/.357 this season. Last year, lefties teed off on Scherzer at a .292/.366/.465 clip. This improvement has seen his WHIP drop from a respectable 1.27 in 2012 to a downright filthy 0.98 in 2013.
Other than that, however, this is largely the same Max Scherzer we have seen for the last 14 months. He sported a 1.15 WHIP, .229 batting average against, 2.53 ERA, and 2.74 FIP during the second half of the 2012 season. Part of the reason for the lack of hype over Scherzer's coming out party might have been the performance of the rest of the rotation. Justin Verlander was Justin Verlander, while Doug Fister nearly matched his gaudy 2011 numbers in the second half of 2012. Not to mention, Anibal Sanchez might have been the Tigers' best pitcher from August onward.
This season, however, Max has been the star of the rotation. The Tigers have put up plenty of runs for him -- they have scored three runs or fewer in just four of his 19 starts -- but he has showed up when it matters. Following a Tigers loss, Scherzer is 8-0 with a 3.08 ERA, averaging 7.0 innings per start. He leads the team in innings pitched, no small feat when you're rubbing elbows with a workhorse like Verlander everyday. Scherzer has struck out at least six batters in every start this season.
The Important Stuff
While it would be nice to see Max have a better outing than Justin Verlander did last year, Verlander's second half helped prove that tonight's should-be exhibition isn't a predictor of future performance. I would imagine that Jim Leyland will keep Max to one inning of work after starting on Saturday. That said, bringing him back out for a second inning of duty shouldn't be the panic-inducing event that I imagine it being with our fanbase.
The matchup of the night, however, will be when Miguel Cabrera steps into the batter's box against Harvey in the first inning. Cabrera has been worth a whopping 20.9 runs above average against fastballs this season, according to Fangraphs. However, nothing would make me happier than to see Cabrera take a low-and-away slider the opposite way for a home run, because Cabrera is just that good.
This time, it counts. Meanwhile, you can count on me complaining about it the entire time on Twitter at @SBNationMLB.
Also, I'm hoping for a real Scherzer vs. Harvey matchup when the Tigers visit Citi Field in late August. Rig it however you have to, Jim.
Max goes two scoreless innings and the American League snaps its three-game losing streak. Jhonny Peralta is named the MVP after a late RBI double.