Detroit Tigers (23-12) at Baltimore Orioles (20-17)
Time/Place: 12:35 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (4-2, 2.67 ERA) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 2.08 ERA in Triple-A Norfolk)
Kevin Gausman struggled at times in the major leagues last season, allowing a 5.66 ERA in 47 2/3 innings. His numbers as a starter -- 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in five starts -- were even worse. However, there was a lot to like about his rookie season. He struck out over a batter per inning and displayed solid command, walking 13 batters all year. He had some trouble with the home run ball -- an occupational hazard in Baltimore -- allowing 1.5 per nine innings. His 3.99 FIP and 3.04 xFIP indicate that things might have gone better had he pitched more innings.
Things were going well for Gausman in Triple A this season until a bout of pneumonia shut him down for roughly two weeks at the end of April. He has only made one start since then, tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings with six strikeouts. The puzzling part of this scenario is that he made this start on Saturday, meaning he will be pitching on short rest this afternoon. This should not have much of an impact on his fastball, which averaged 96.9 miles per hour last season. Gausman also throws a biting slider and a wicked changeup, the latter of which he can throw multiple ways to get a splitter-like effect against both righties and lefties.
Justin Verlander was both the victim and the villain in his last start, allowing two runs in seven innings in a hard-luck loss to the Minnesota Twins. The two runs came in his last inning, somewhat spoiling another dominant effort. The outing also incited plenty of concern over Verlander's peripheral numbers, which have not been quite as shiny as in recent years. He has a 2.05 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year, his lowest figure since 2008. He has only allowed one home run, ballooning his xFIP to 4.29. His line drive rate is also the lowest of his career at 16.1%.
Hitter to fear: J.J. Hardy (.258/.273/.581 in 35 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Chris Davis (.190/.261/.190 in 23 plate appearances)
Verlander has had plenty of success against the Orioles, holding them to a 3.18 ERA in 99 career innings. Among players on the current roster, only Nick Markakis has an on-base percentage above .300 in more than 10 plate appearances. Only two players (Markakis and J.J Hardy) are hitting above .250. Hardy has eight hits in 31 at-bats, but four of them have gone for extra bases. He homered off Verlander three times last season, twice at Camden Yards. Verlander has had no problem generating whiffs either. Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Delmon Young have all struck out at least nine times with a sub-.500 OPS.
Based on their last turn through the rotation, lefty Wei-Yin Chen should have been today's starter. However, the Tigers have been bludgeoning left-handed pitching this season, hitting .293/.341/.468 as a team. Their numbers are still respectable against righties, but a .736 OPS is much more appealing if you're Buck Showalter. It also helps that Gausman had his best outing of the year against the Tigers last season. He has his work cut out for him today, as Verlander is 6-0 with a 2.29 ERA in seven career starts at Camden Yards.
The Tigers pull off the sweep with another late inning victory.