Detroit Tigers (38-32) at Cleveland Indians (37-37)
Time/Place: 7:15 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (6-7, 4.98 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (2-3, 4.20 ERA)
Trevor Bauer was solid against the Tigers a month ago and hasn't left the Tribe rotation since. He allowed a pair of runs on seven hits in six innings, striking out five while walking three. His five starts since then have not been as neat, however. He has allowed 16 runs in his last 28 2/3 innings with a 1.43 WHIP. The 29 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings are impressive, but he is walking nearly 3.5 batters per nine innings as well. This isn't the case of one bad start weighing down his overall numbers either. He has allowed at least two runs in all seven of his starts this year and has yet to get through seven innings.
Like many young pitchers, Bauer has been very inefficient. His command is still a bit of an issue at times, but a 2.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't exactly what you would call a "problem" for a pitcher his age. He has thrown seven different pitches this season according to PitchFX, including a splitter and a screwball. While his fastball rests in the mid 90s, he only throws it roughly 55% of the time. He also mixes in a cutter and curveball against both righties and lefties. The latter is his preferred offering with two strikes, as he goes to it nearly 28% of the time. He also throws a slider against right-handers and a changeup to lefties.
The last time Bauer and Justin Verlander faced off, things did not go well for the veteran. It was the second in a string of six starts (out of seven) where Verlander allowed five runs or more. He has a 7.83 ERA during this stretch, which somehow includes two wins. His 5.36 FIP is slightly better, but in the "Phil Coke is slightly better than Joe Nathan" tone I wrote about last week. The Indians hit Verlander particularly hard, tallying five doubles and 11 hits overall. They have also drawn seven walks against him in two starts this year.
Hitter to fear: Michael Bourn (.417/.481/.500 in 27 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.115/.250/.154 in 32 plate appearances)
There is something about guys named Michael that Verlander must have a problem with. Michael Bourn is hitting a cool .417 against the Tigers' ace with a pair of doubles in 24 at-bats, while Michael Brantley has tormented Verlander with an .861 OPS in 48 plate appearances. Brantley is an equal opportunity Tiger killer, complete with a 1.231 OPS against Detroit this season. David Murphy and Lonnie Chisenhall are also hitting above .300 against Verlander, though it still seems strange to label the latter as the more dangerous hitter. Jason Kipnis, Nick Swisher, and Carlos Santana are all hitting under .200, though Swisher and Santana have both homered three times.
If the Indians have not completely figured Verlander out yet, they're darn close. Nothing seems to go right for him at Progressive Field, where his career ERA has climbed to 5.36. The Tigers are 8-7 in games that he has started this season, but just 3-6 since May 1st. While his performance has been downright brutal at times, it's still a bit early to be concerned about him long-term despite the national media's attempts to create widespread panic. His fastball velocity has improved in the month of June, and I would imagine his command should not be too far behind as he continues to distance himself from last offseason's surgery.
Still, don't expect an improvement tonight.
Verlander scowls his way through five innings, but his ERA climbs to 72.00. Tomorrow's game gets delayed because nobody gets any outs.