Washington Nationals (52-55) at Detroit Tigers (60-45)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball
Pitching Matchup: LHP Gio Gonzalez (7-3, 2.97 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (10-8, 3.99 ERA)
Gonzalez endured a rough April coming off his 21-win 2012 season, posting a 2-2 record, 5.34 ERA, 4.10 FIP, and 2.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Since then, he has been the rock of the Nationals' rotation, putting up a 5-1 record, 2.20 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 2.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last 15 starts. He hasn't allowed more than four runs in a start since April, and had a streak of 10 consecutive quality starts snapped when he only lasted 5 2/3 innings in his last outing.
The biggest reason for Gonzalez's success in 2012 was his significant drop in walk rate. While walking 3.43 batters per nine innings doesn't sound terribly impressive for most pitchers -- hell, we're panicking about Verlander's 3.33 walks per nine innings -- it was a huge improvement for Gonzalez. This season, he's walking 3.66 batters per nine. He has maintained his 59% first pitch strike rate and has upped his swinging strike percentage.
The only "problem" Gonzalez has had this year is a home run rate that has nearly doubled. However, his numbers this season are closer to his career rates. He has allowed three dingers in his last four starts and six in his last nine. Eleven of his 12 home runs allowed this year have come off his fastball, which generally hasn't been as effective as 2012. He throws a changeup roughly 10% of the time and will break off several nasty curveballs at some point tonight. The hammer is Gonzalez's signature pitch, and opposing batters are hitting just .106 off that pitch.
Instead of focusing on Verlander's last couple starts, I'd like to salivate over the idea of Verlander facing Bryce Harper for the first time. Harper has crushed poorly located fastballs all season long, and he has been worth 1.87 and 1.47 runs above average per 100 pitches against curveballs and changeups, respectively. That said, Verlander has secondary stuff unlike anyone in the National League not named Stephen Strasburg.
Also, focusing on this matchup prevents me from focusing on the fact that Denard Span is a career .357 hitter against Verlander.
Yes way, Jose
It may be too early to judge the Tigers' recent acquisitions, but both Jose Veras and Jose Iglesias provide solid upgrades without breaking the bank. I've already made my case as to why I love the Veras deal, and Iglesias plugs an immediate hole while possibly solving the Tigers' shortstop issues for years to come. Avisail Garcia, like Jacob Turner, may go on to be a stud -- though I somewhat doubt it with how the Chicago White Sox develop talent -- but outfielders are much easier to come by than quality shortstops. Once again, Dave Dombrowski proved why he is one of the best GMs in the game.
The Tigers have torched left-handed pitching this season to the tune of a .775 OPS, second in baseball to only the Tampa Bay Rays. Meanwhile, Gio Gonzalez has been fairly pedestrian against right-handers, allowing a .712 OPS. He has held left-handed hitters to a .394 OPS with a whopping 18.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Matt Tuiasosopo is all but guaranteed to start, and I'd expect Hernan Perez to get the nod at second tonight as well. The Tigers should put up a few runs on Gonzalez, and they may need to in order to give Verlander a shot at a W.
Jose Iglesias introduces himself to the Comerica faithful with a dazzling defensive play.