Toronto Blue Jays (35-24) at Detroit Tigers (31-23)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Pitching Matchup: RHP R.A. Dickey (5-4, 4.30 ERA) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (8-2, 3.82 ERA)
Pitching in Toronto did not go well for R.A. Dickey last year. He struggled quite a bit at home, allowing a 4.80 ERA and 5.00 FIP. Meanwhile, he put up a 3.57 ERA and 4.13 FIP in 16 road starts. He allowed 1.78 home runs per nine innings at home, nearly double the rate he posted away from the Rogers Centre. This season, the opposite has occurred. Dickey has a 3.48 ERA and 3.55 FIP at home, but a 6.23 ERA and 4.86 FIP on the road. His home run rate is lower on the road again, but the telling figure this season is his strikeout-to-walk ratio. At home, he has tallied 47 strikeouts to 14 walks. In his four road starts? Dickey actually has more walks (18) than strikeouts (14).
Part of this can be attributed to a relatively small sample size. Eight of Dickey's 12 starts have come at home, which lets outings like his poor Opening Day effort in Tampa dominate the splits. Regardless of the ballpark, Dickey has not been the same pitcher he was with the New York Mets. He is walking nearly four batters per nine innings this season, a rate that almost doubles what he did during his 2012 Cy Young season. He is getting a fair number of swings and misses, though. His 10.4 percent whiff rate is the second-highest of his career, and he still throws first-pitch strikes more than 60 percent of the time.
If anything, the problem may be Dickey's fastball. He does not throw it often -- Brooks says 12 percent, Fangraphs says 18 percent -- but opposing batters seem to be sitting on it. They have put up a robust .843 OPS with a .259 ISO on the fastball (per Fangraphs) compared to a .662 OPS with a .119 ISO on the knuckler.
Rick Porcello was uncharacteristically wild in his last start, walking six batters in 5 2/3 innings. Naturally, this was a career high, but it was also only the second time since 2010 that Porcello had allowed more than three walks in a start. Despite allowing 12 total baserunners in his last outing -- he gave up five hits and plunked a batter -- he was able to dance out of trouble with just two runs allowed. One of the more perplexing stats of his outing is that Porcello threw first pitch strikes to 18 of the 28 batters he faced, a slightly higher percentage than his season-long rate of 61.6 percent. Of his 105 pitches thrown, 64 were for strikes, and he generated 10 whiffs. These numbers don't look like those of a pitcher battling his command, so it will be interesting to see how Porcello responds tonight.
Hitter to fear: Melky Cabrera (.471/.471/.588 in 17 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Adam Lind (.167/.286/.417 in 14 plate appearances)
Given the respective career platoon splits of Porcello and Adam Lind, it's surprising to see that the lefty slugger only has two hits in 12 at-bats off Porcello. Lind mashes righties -- he has a 1.106 OPS against them this season -- and has terrorized Tigers pitching in his career with eight home runs. Ditto for Melky Cabrera, who has a .790 career OPS at Comerica Park to go along with his eight hits in 17 plate appearances against Porcello. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion also have good numbers, though neither has homered. Four of Encarnacion's five hits are doubles, however.
Contrary to popular belief, the Tigers' recent offensive struggles have been fairly short-lived, and are likely magnified by Sunday's shutout. They put together a pair of solid efforts in Oakland before struggling in Seattle, but many have overlooked the fact that those two teams have the two best ERAs in the American League. Meanwhile, they still lead the league in batting average and rank in the top five in slugging average, wOBA, and wRC+. They will have their work cut out for them against Dickey, who has a 2.08 career ERA at Comerica Park. This is a small sample of just two starts and 21 2/3 innings (he also made three relief appearances) though, so anything could happen, especially if the ball is carrying well.
Porcello and the Tigers get back on track with a much-needed victory.