Minnesota Twins (32-34) at Detroit Tigers (35-29)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ricky Nolasco (4-5, 5.70 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (8-4, 4.04 ERA)
Ricky Nolasco may be the owner of the largest free agent contract in Twins history, but he certainly has not played like it in 2014. His ERA has never gotten below 5.50 and he has five starts with at least five runs allowed. He was victimized by the home run ball -- a common occurrence this season -- in his last start, allowing four runs on a pair of homers in 5 2/3 innings. Like usual, Nolasco's peripheral numbers are better than his actual performance. However, these have dropped off considerably from his typical mid-3's FIP. He has a 2.55 strikeout-to-walk ratio and is allowing 1.5 home runs per nine innings.
While having his highest walk rate since 2007 has not helped, Nolasco may be getting a bit unlucky. He has given up a .340 BABIP, resulting in an .887 OPS for opposing hitters. In particular, his .160 BABIP on fly balls may be where he eventually sees some regression. The league average BABIP on fly balls is just .092. For a pitcher with a 37% fly ball rate, that BABIP will need to drop if he expects his ERA to drop south of five.
We all know this, but Rick Porcello is one of the most enigmatic pitchers that baseball has seen in recent memory. When he is on, it can be beautiful. When he is not -- like in his last start -- it gets very ugly. The Chicago White Sox battered Porcello, tallying six runs (five earned) on nine hits in just over five innings. Jose Abreu hit a home run that may have landed in Lake Michigan, marking the fifth consecutive start that Porcello has allowed a homer.
This particular dinger came off Porcello's slider, which is still as horrific as it was before he scrapped it in 2013. Opposing batters are hitting .300 with a .525 slugging average off the slider. Even more disheartening is that his four-seam fastball has been worse. Opponents are hitting .373 (!) off the four-seamer, which Porcello is featuring more often this season. While his 4.04 ERA is lower than in previous years, his increased reliance on a pair of awful pitches is very concerning. A transition back to his trademark two-seamer could be of particular use today: the Twins are hitting just .234/.325/.311 against ground ball pitchers this season.
Hitter to fear: Josh Willingham (.389/.542/.833 in 24 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Kendrys Morales (.188/.235/.250 in 17 plate appearances)
Josh Willingham owns Rick Porcello despite the righty-righty matchup working in Porcello's favor. Willingham has a pair of doubles and a pair of homers in 18 at-bats, resulting in a 1.375 OPS. Brian Dozier has also had success against Porcello -- including two homers of his own -- in a fair number of plate appearances. Porcello will need to continue keeping the Twins' bigger bats in check this afternoon. Joe Mauer is hitting just .278/.333/.361 off Porcello, while Kendrys Morales has five strikeouts in 16 at-bats.
It was nice to see the big bats in the Tigers' offense break out yesterday, but their plate discipline was particularly encouraging. The Tigers drew four walks yesterday and went to a three ball count 10 times. Most of their real damage was done early in at-bats, but their ability to take a few pitches and make the opposition work played a key role in yesterday's victory. This same plate discipline will be needed today against Nolasco, who generates swings at nearly one-third of the pitches he throws outside the strike zone. A better day from the pitching staff would also be helpful.
The Tigers take the series despite the bullpen's best effort to give it away.