Detroit Tigers (43-38) at Toronto Blue Jays (41-41)
Time/Place: 7:07 p.m., Rogers Centre
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (6-5, 3.50 ERA) vs. RHP Chien-Ming Wang (1-1, 5.24 ERA)
Note: every time I go anywhere, my replacement game previewers add more work for me in these posts. Any feedback on the table above (including its position within the thread) is greatly appreciated, as always.
When he's on, Wang is a groundout-inducing machine. His career ground ball rate is 59.3% and he has allowed ground balls at a 63.6% clip in four starts in 2013. Opposing batters are hitting .280 off Wang on ground balls this season, a number you would expect to go down now that Jose Reyes is off the disabled list. Muneori Kawasaki might have been a nice spark plug while Reyes was on the DL, but an elite-level defender he is not.
Of course, when Wang isn't inducing ground balls at a near-60% clip, he is likely getting hit around like he did in his last start against the Boston Red Sox. He allowed seven runs on six hits and two walks in just 1 2/3 innings at Fenway Park. The outing ballooned his ERA from a stellar 2.61 to its current 5.24. It was damp and rainy, which may have had something to do with his awful fastball location, but outings like this are nothing out of the ordinary for him.
As you might expect with an extreme ground ball pitcher like Wang, he relies heavily on his two-seam fastball to create weak contact. He has relied on the two-seamer even more than usual this season, throwing it a Bartolo Colon-esque 75% of the time. Opposing batters are hitting .299 off the fastball, but the .419 slugging average, .119 ISO, 68.8% ground ball rate, and .290 BABIP all suggest that grounders are finding holes. Meanwhile, he also throws a curveball, slider, and changeup between 8 and 15% of the time. He saves the curveball for righties and the changeup for lefties, with the slider primarily used in two strike counts.
Speaking of starters being victimized by seeing-eye grounders, Fister is allowing an absurd .298 average on ground balls in 2013 compared to a .152 average on fly balls. Even more telling is that Fister has allowed more doubles on grounders (six) than fly balls (five), and has only allowed a slugging average of .409 on fly balls this season. It helps that he has only allowed four home runs on the year, and this trend might not be sustainable. Regardless, it's definitely a trend worth watching: Fister has allowed at least nine fly balls in seven starts this year, and has yet to allow more than three runs in any of those outings.
Wang has been excellent against the Tigers in his career, winning five of his six career starts with a 2.54 ERA. However, he hasn't faced them since 2007. Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta are the only two Tigers hitters with more than 10 at-bats against Wang, and both have had a decent amount of success. That said, Wang has fared much better than most people expected this season despite a good showing at the World Baseball Classic in March. He seems to have that heavy two-seamer working again, which is bad news for opposing hitters.
It's tough to judge how good the Blue Jays' offense is given that Jose Reyes has only played in 15 games this season, not to mention a slew of other injuries. Even after yesterday's three-hit outburst, he is still only hitting .280 with one extra base hit and zero steals since returning from the disabled list. Is he completely healthy? That remains to be seen, but I wouldn't bank on him stealing any bases tonight. Between Fister's ability to slow an opposing team's running game and the return of Alex Avila behind the plate, expect Reyes, Rajai Davis, and others to stay put on the basepaths.
Fister pitches well again but gets victimized by a lack of run support... again.