Detroit Tigers (65-45) at Cleveland Indians (62-50)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.88 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Masterson (13-7, 3.33 ERA)
Masterson was rocked in his last start against the Tigers, allowing six runs on seven hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. Combined with his start against the Tigers in Detroit back in May, 10 of the 58 earned runs Masterson has allowed this year have come against the AL Central division leaders. He has a 2.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio overall in 2013, but has just 10 strikeouts to seven walks against the Tigers. So, naturally, he will probably toss eight shutout innings.
If we Porcello Masterson's numbers against the Tigers out of the equation, he has a 2.98 ERA in 145 innings against the rest of the American League. He is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 29 strikeouts to nine walks in his last four starts, three of which came at Progressive Field. Overall, Masterson is 8-2 with a 2.54 ERA and 2.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio at home this season.
Above all, Masterson's improved numbers against left-handed hitters have carried him from being an average starter to one of the best pitchers in the American League. The PitchFX data show that any reports about him developing a changeup are overblown -- Brooks Baseball says he has only thrown four all season. Instead, it is his ability to throw his two-seam fastball for strikes against lefties that has been the big difference. In 2012, 20.8% of the two-seamers he threw to lefties were strikes looking. In 2013, that number has jumped to 28.6%. This, going along with a 1.3% increase in swinging strike percentage, has made life much tougher for left-handed hitters against Masterson this season.
Verlander's last start went swimmingly, as he shut down the Washington Nationals for six innings in an 11-1 Tigers romp. He still walked five hitters, but struck out six and seemed to get stronger as the game went along. There's something to be said for the Nats' familiarity -- or lack thereof -- with Verlander. In his last three starts against AL Central opponents, he has allowed a whopping 17 runs on 31 hits in 18 2/3 innings, with 10 strikeouts to just seven walks. He still has the stuff to shut hitters down, but when the fastball command isn't there it seems as if AL Central teams have no problem knocking him around.
The Indians have given Verlander fits, especially in Cleveland. In 19 career starts at Progressive Field, Verlander is 8-10 with a 5.54 ERA. He allowed five runs on 10 hits in five innings against the Tribe earlier this year and didn't pitch in the four game series in July. Overall, he has allowed 12 runs (11 earned) in 17 innings against Cleveland in 2013.
Neither Verlander nor Masterson have a particularly rosy history against the opposing offenses they are facing today, so we're probably going to see a 1-0 game because that's how baseball goes. If this game does hold true to form, however, I'd expect Masterson to be better than his last showing against the Tigers. He has been lights out at home this year, allowing one run or fewer in seven of his 13 home starts. Meanwhile, Progressive Field has been Verlander's kryptonite, and his mechanical issues aren't helping.
The Indians get to Verlander and even the series.