Detroit Tigers (11-8) at Minnesota Twins (11-10)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (2-1, 3.15 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Correia (0-2, 5.47 ERA)
Kevin Correia was a valuable member of the Twins' rotation last year, even if the numbers don't bear that out. His 4.18 ERA was slightly worse than league average, but his 185 1/3 innings led the team by a mile. This type of production would look insanely out of place in the Tigers' loaded rotation, but would be more than adequate at the back end of a contender's rotation. Unfortunately, the health and effectiveness of the Twins' other starters -- or lack thereof -- made Correia look like their de facto number two starter.
Overall, things have not changed much so far in 2014. He is sporting a meager 11.1% strikeout rate and just about every metric -- save for FIP, which loves his low homer rate -- indicates that the 5.47 ERA is no fluke. He has only allowed one home run, but opposing batters are hitting .321 with runners in scoring position and .360 with men on base. This has resulted in a 54.9% strand rate, which will probably regress upward at some point.
Once again, we appear to be playing the "yeah, but..." game with Rick Porcello. He had a rough outing against the San Diego Padres, but has only given up two runs on eight hits in 13 2/3 innings in his other two starts. The strikeout touch he displayed in 2013 has not appeared yet in 2014, but the results are similar to Porcello's second half last season. He allowed a 3.71 ERA in 14 second half appearances, including another "yeah, but..." moment against the Boston Red Sox. It's still early, so I would not read much into Porcello's lower strikeout rate. His sinker has been very effective so far, resulting in an incredible 70.8% ground ball rate.
Hitter to fear: Jason Kubel (.433/.452/.633 in 31 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Joe Mauer (.273/.333/.364 in 36 plate appearances)
For all the trouble left-handed hitters have given Rick Porcello over the years, it's strange that Joe Mauer is the one struggling in this matchup. His career numbers aren't bad for a regular hitter, but that batting average and on-base percentage are more than 50 points below Mauer's career numbers. On the other side of the ledger, Kubel has torched Porcello for 13 hits in 30 at-bats, including four extra base hits. Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier have also hit Porcello at a .290 clip or better, well above their career norms.
One more "yeah, but..." stat: Porcello was 8-2 with a 2.84 ERA and 66 strikeouts to 19 walks against the American League Central last season. The "but..." part? He was just 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA against the Twins. This was nothing unusual for the Twins, who hit slightly better against ground ball pitchers last season. Meanwhile, Correia's increased fly ball tendencies this season won't play well against the Tigers, who hit a scalding .292/.357/.456 against fly ball pitchers in 2013.
Porcello keeps rolling and the Tigers take the first game of the series.