Detroit Tigers (48-39) at Cleveland Indians (46-42)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (13-0, 3.09 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (4-4, 4.86 ERA)
True story: Max Scherzer's WHIP is so low that I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out if I messed up the formatting of the above table. Nope, he's just that good. Also, the fact that I'm writing this at 2:15 a.m. probably doesn't help.
Prior to his debut this season, Kazmir had logged just 1 2/3 big league innings since the 2010 season. He understandably showed some rust in his first start, but has been a solid back-of-the-rotation option for the Indians this season. He has pitched at least five innings in 11 of his 14 starts, and has gone six or more in seven starts. He has looked like the Kazmir of old at times, holding the opposition to two runs or fewer in half of his outings.
Kazmir's strikeout rate isn't as high as it was in his heyday from 2005-2008, but his 41.3% ground ball rate is back up to his Devil Rays days. This probably has a lot to do with his change in philosophy. During his later years with the Rays -- PitchFX doesn't have data for his earlier years -- Kazmir threw primarily four-seam fastballs. This season, he is using a two-seamer much more often. In turn, that pitch is inducing ground balls at a 44% rate, second only to his slider at just over 45%.
Remember when the Tigers tried to get Jeremy Bonderman to develop a changeup? Max Scherzer is an example of why. The continuing development of his changeup and curveball have resulted in a massive improvement against left-handed hitters, but the changeup has helped against righties too. He is inducing ground balls at a 60% clip with the change this season, one reason why he's averaging almost seven innings per start in 2013.
Expect Jim Leyland to load up his lineup with right-handed hitters tonight. Righties have hit a scorching .302/.367/.561 with 12 home runs this year. That .928 OPS is nearly 400 points higher than lefties, who have an OPS of just .558 this season. We will most likely get our first look at Matt Tuiasosopo since coming off the disabled list. Can Tuiasosopo continue his amazing run which, among other things, includes a .385/.467/.846 batting line with runners in scoring position and two outs?
While run support hasn't been an issue for Scherzer recently, he hasn't really needed it either. His streak of starts where he has allowed three runs or fewer now sits at nine, and he hasn't allowed more than seven hits in a start this season. In 16 innings against the Indians this year, Scherzer has allowed five runs on seven hits. If he can keep the ball in the ballpark -- easier said than done against this Indians offense, as we saw yesterday -- there's a good chance he can keep this historic streak going.
Move over, Roger Clemens. Max wins his 14th game tonight.