Detroit Tigers (42-32) at Texas Rangers (35-42)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Globe Life Park in Arlington
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Rick Porcello (9-4, 3.76 ERA) vs. RHP Nick Martinez (1-4, 4.22 ERA)
Nick Martinez put together one of the best starts of his young career when he faced the Tigers in May, holding them to a single run in six innings of work. Things went south quickly after that, as he allowed an 11.08 ERA and 1.180 OPS in his next three starts. He had more home runs (five) than strikeouts (four) during that span, and also allowed eight walks. The rough stretch — and a two-inning, eight-run start against the Indians, in particular — ballooned his ERA to 4.63. Things have gotten slightly better since then, as Martinez has only allowed two runs in each of his past two starts.
One thing that jumps out about Martinez's numbers are his strikeouts, or lack thereof. Martinez has not recorded more than three strikeouts in a single start this season. His 10.7 percent strikeout rate is dead last in baseball among pitchers with at least 50 innings under their belt. He was successful early on by limiting home runs — he only allowed two homers in his first 33⅔ innings — but has fallen on hard times since then. In his five starts since he faced the Tigers, Martinez has given up six home runs. The jump in homer rate has led to a half-run spike in FIP, which continues to sit well above his ERA.
Rick Porcello threw six shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians in his last start, his best of the 2014 season so far. This was the eighth time that Porcello has held the opposition to two runs or fewer in a start, second on the Tigers' staff (all five starters have at least seven, for what it's worth). Like Martinez, Porcello has not racked up many strikeouts. In fact, the last time Porcello struck out five hitters in a start, these same Rangers rocked him for eight runs (seven earned) on 12 hits in the process.
Hitter to fear: Shin-Soo Choo (.323/.400/.452 in 35 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.150/.227/.150 in 22 plate appearances)
Other players have done more damage against Porcello than Choo — Alex Rios has more homers, Adrian Beltre has a higher average, and Carlos Pena has a higher OPS — but nobody has been a bigger thorn in Porcello's side. Choo has reached base in 14 of his 35 career plate appearances against Porcello, an even .400 clip. Part of the Tigers' success in this series has been due to keeping Choo off the bases in front of Beltre, who is hitting a cool .348 against Porcello and has a gazillion hits against the Tigers this season. Alex Rios has a .220 on-base percentage despite three home runs, while Elvis Andrus and Chris Gimenez are a combined 5-for-31.
Porcello's recent return to his normal grounder-heavy ways is a good omen for the Tigers on paper. The Rangers are hitting a tepid .255/.315/.373 against right-handed pitchers this season and just .240/.294/.328 against ground ball pitchers. However, the point made above about Choo's ability to reach base will loom large over tonight's matchup. Choo has reached base twice in nine plate appearances in this series and scored twice, both times thanks to RBI hits by Adrian Beltre. Porcello's ability to navigate the heart of the Rangers order will likely determine the outcome of tonight's game, though tacking on a few more runs off Nick Martinez would help too.
All of the good vibes from Victor and J.D. Martinez are cancelled out by a fellow Martinez on the mound, resulting in both hitters losing their excellent hitting ability a la the movie Space Jam, while Nick Martinez throws a perfect game with zero strikeouts. Rick Porcello gives up 12 runs on 57 hits, an impressive feat if you actually think about it. Ron Washington calls for six sacrifice bunts.