Detroit Tigers (81-57) at Boston Red Sox (82-57)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (19-1, 2.90 ERA) vs. LHP Jon Lester (12-8, 3.99 ERA)
Lester has been all over the place this season. In his first 10 starts, he was 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. The next 10? A 6.15 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. Since the All-Star Break, Lester has reverted back to his early season Jekyll form, posting a 2.58 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He finished August with five consecutive quality starts, four of which came on the road.
Last season, Lester's strikeout rate hit a career low 7.28 whiffs per nine innings. Many pundits thought this was an aberration, much like his 4.82 ERA and 4.11 FIP, both of which were career highs in full seasons. This season, despite a huge improvement in his overall numbers, his strikeout rate hasn't budged. Even during the good periods mentioned above, his strikeout rate hasn't jumped anywhere close to the batter per inning clip that he averaged from 2009 to 2011.
Lester's career numbers against the Tigers aren't great, and his start at Comerica Park earlier this season didn't help. He allowed five runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 innings, but still picked up a win because Doug Fister was even worse. In six career starts, Lester has a 5.26 ERA against the Tigers. Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Brayan Pena all have an OPS above .900 against Lester in at least 10 career at-bats.
Even Max Scherzer couldn't avoid whatever plagued the Tigers' starting staff against the Oakland A's, allowing six runs (five earned) on eight hits in five innings. Max had previously dominated the A's throughout his career, making the bad start that much more puzzling. Fortunately, Grant Balfour bailed Scherzer out of his second loss of the season and the Tigers won a 7-6 shootout.
The bad start didn't make much of a dent in Scherzer's amazing second half numbers. He still has a 2.18 ERA and 2.91 FIP in the second half. He also has 16 strikeouts in his last 11 innings, an encouraging sign after the slight dip in strikeout rate just after the All-Star Break.
While Lester doesn't have the extreme platoon splits we see from most lefties, right-handers are hitting him well enough that we should expect to see Nick Castellanos' first career start this evening. Lester has struggled with his command against righties though, issuing 50 of his 60 walks this season to right-handed batters.
For Max, he needs to get back to being the efficient pitcher we saw in May and June. He has hit the 100-pitch plateau in the sixth inning or earlier in three of his past four starts. The Red Sox have one of the most patient offenses in the American League -- their O-swing percentage is the third lowest in the AL -- but can be had by pitchers who command the strike zone. Their Z-contact percentage, or contact rate on pitches within the strike zone, is also the third lowest rate in the AL.
Another no decision for Max as the Red Sox pull out a late win against the Tigers' bullpen.