Colorado Rockies (44-64) at Detroit Tigers (58-47)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Purple Row
Pitching Matchup: LHP Franklin Morales (5-5, 5.18 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (9-9, 4.79 ERA)
Franklin Morales started the season in the Rockies' rotation, but things did not go well. In 11 starts through April and May, Morales put up a 6.03 ERA and a 5.70 FIP. He allowed 13 home runs during that stretch -- only three at Coors Field, oddly enough -- and a 1.58 WHIP in 62 2/3 innings. The Rockies moved the 28 year old Venezuelan to the bullpen in June, where he put up a 4.50 ERA and a 4.43 xFIP. Despite holding opponents scoreless in six of his eight outings, he still allowed four home runs in 14 total innings, resulting in a 7.06 FIP. He was moved back to the rotation in July, where he has given up a 3.05 ERA in four home starts. While the ERA looks better, his 4.87 FIP and 4.96 xFIP in July tell a different story. A 16:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.79 WHIP further suggest that this recent run of success is just smoke and mirrors.
While Morales' numbers at Coors Field aren't great, his road numbers are downright awful. He has allowed a 6.20 ERA and 7.15 FIP away from home this season, largely thanks to an astounding 13 home runs allowed in 45 innings. His batted ball splits suggest that this astronomical rate won't continue, though. Over 23 percent of the fly balls he has allowed on the road have resulted in home runs compared to just 12 percent at Coors. However, it's also worth pointing out that he is allowing far more fly balls on the road, and his BABIP splits are nearly identical. His slight dip in strikeout rate on the road doesn't help either.
Morales' platoon splits are quite jarring as well. Remember Drew Smyly? Right-handed batters are hitting Morales even harder, at .315/.394/.549 in 314 plate appearances. Righties are also responsible for 15 of the 19 home runs he has allowed this season. Lefties are hitting just .236/.312/.391 against Morales for a passable .703 OPS in 127 plate appearances. Despite the decent OPS, lefties have just seven extra base hits against Morales in 2014. These numbers are in line with Morales' career numbers, though his 1.89 strikeout-to-walk ratio against lefties is much lower than his career mark of 2.56.
Justin Verlander got no help from his teammates in his last start, a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Not only did the offense muster just three hits against Angels starter Matt Shoemaker, but the bullpen and defense combined to allow another unearned run after Verlander's seven innings of work. Verlander allowed three walks in his second consecutive start, leaving him with a less-than-stellar 20:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 July innings. He also allowed another home run, bringing his total up to 10 since June 1st.
Hitter to fear: Justin Morneau (.245/.351/.469 in 57 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Carlos Gonzalez (.000/.000/.000 in 4 plate appearances)
The Tigers and Rockies have not faced one another since 2011, so it comes as no surprise that Verlander has only faced five players on the current Rockies' roster. Of those five, only Justin Morneau has more than six career plate appearances against Verlander thanks to his days with the Minnesota Twins. Morneau torched Verlander earlier in their respective careers, but the Tigers' ace has gotten the better of Morneau in recent years. Since the start of 2009, Morneau is just 3 for 24 with a double and four walks. He has also struck out 12 times.
On paper, this game seems like it should play out in similar fashion to Wednesday's first inning against White Sox starter Hector Noesi. The Tigers have the best OPS against left-handed pitching in all of baseball, and Franklin Morales is awful against right-handed hitters. Meanwhile, the Rockies are hitting just .240/.294/.375 away from Coors Field, and NL MVP candidate Troy Tulowitzki is on the disabled list. Despite his struggles, Verlander held opponents to a .258 average and .313 on-base percentage in July and has shown flashes of returning to his previously dominant form. If things play out like the numbers suggest, he should have plenty of wiggle room tonight.
The new-look Tigers struggle early but pull away in the middle innings. No one in center field commits an error.
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