Seattle Mariners (66-85) at Detroit Tigers (88-63)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lookout Landing
Pitching Matchup: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (12-6, 2.87 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (13-11, 3.66 ERA)
Hisashi Iwakuma was on fire to start the season, allowing a 2.42 ERA through the first three months of the season. He was 8-4 with a 3.02 ERA and 3.86 FIP in the first half, earning his first All-Star berth of his major league career. Since the break, he has been even better. His second half ERA has dropped to 2.61 and his second half FIP is 3.06. He has done this by keeping the ball in the park, allowing a scant four home runs in 11 second half starts after giving up 21 in the first half. His walk and strikeout rates have deteriorated though, and his second half WHIP is 1.20.
While Iwakuma has been tough on all hitters, left-handers are having more trouble with his arsenal. Blessed with arguably the best split-fingered fastball in baseball -- though fellow countryman Koji Uehara may disagree -- Iwakuma is holding lefties to hitting just .217/.254/.349 against him this season. They are hitting just .191 with a .070 ISO off the splitter, which he throws nearly 30% of the time to them.
Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture, there are a couple of unsettling trends I noticed with Verlander. His FIP in the first half was 3.22 -- still his highest since 2008 but not unreasonable -- but has jumped up to 3.74 in the second half. He has allowed home runs at a slightly higher clip, but has actually decreased his walk rate since the All-Star Break to under three batters per nine innings. The problem is that Verlander's strikeout rate has dipped by almost 3% since the midsummer classic.
One plausible reason for this are the opponents he has faced. In a second half schedule chock full of division opponents, Verlander hasn't had the luxury of facing the likes of the Houston Astros or Pittsburgh Pirates, against whom he racked up 22 strikeouts in a combined 14 innings. He also ran up gaudy strikeout totals against the Seattle Mariners back in April, fanning 12 in seven innings. Given that Tigers starters have combined to strike out 20 batters in the first two games of this series, it wouldn't be surprising to see Verlander threaten double digits tonight.
Last time Verlander and Iwakuma faced off, things didn't go well for the Tigers' offense. Iwakuma dominated while Verlander showed some of the inconsistencies we're now much more aware of in the later innings en route to a 2-0 Mariners win. In that start, there were five left-handed hitters in the Tigers' lineup (including the switch-hitting Victor Martinez). Don't be surprised if we see a couple more righties today.
As for Verlander, I think we will see more of the same. He seems to have righted the ship (again) since the calendar turned to September, allowing a 3.05 ERA with 20 strikeouts to just three walks in his last three starts. He has good numbers against the Mariners in his career and I would expect that trend to continue.
Verlander reaches double digit strikeouts and picks up win number 14.