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Game 119 Preview: Pirates at Tigers

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Max Scherzer will take the mound today looking to give the Tigers a series split with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Christian Petersen

Pittsburgh Pirates (64-56) at Detroit Tigers (64-54)

Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Bucs Dugout

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Francisco Liriano (3-8, 3.82 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (13-4, 3.13 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Liriano 20 108.1 9.47 4.15 0.83 1.29 3.72 3.56 0.9
Scherzer 24 161.0 10.17 2.46 0.78 1.16 2.88 2.97 4.2

On the whole, Francisco Liriano's numbers aren't all that impressive. Sure, his ERA and FIP are far better than a certain ailing star in the Tigers' rotation, but for a guy expected to be one of the top dogs on the Pirates' staff, an ERA in the high 3's won't cut it.

That hasn't been the case lately, though. Liriano spent a month on the disabled list with an oblique strain. Since he came off the DL in mid-July, he has been lights out, with a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in his last 36 innings. He has 37 strikeouts to 14 walks during that stretch, and has held opponents to a .171 batting average.

If we were to point out a "turning point" in Max Scherzer's career, it is probably his start against the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 2012. Scherzer struck out 15 while allowing two runs in seven innings, leading the Tigers to a 4-3 victory. From then until the end of the year, Scherzer was 14-4 with a 3.02 ERA and 2.96 FIP in 146 innings. Had he not gotten off to an awful start that year -- his ERA was 6.26 heading into that start against the Pirates -- we may be talking about Scherzer's third consecutive season as a Cy Young contender.

Scherzer cemented himself as such in 2014 with yet another dominant outing five days ago, holding the Toronto Blue Jays to one run on four hits in eight innings. The decision to pull him after 106 pitches has gotten plenty of scorn in hindsight, especially given Scherzer's recent tear. In his last nine starts, he has held opponents to a 2.01 ERA and .566 OPS.

Hitter to fear: Ike Davis (1.000/1.000/1.500 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jayson Nix (.000/.000/.000 in 11 plate appearances)

Outlook

While last night's crap-meets-fan PR blunders may have made waves elsewhere, the Tigers have a great chance to seize a series split with a playoff contender on the field this afternoon. Despite Liriano's recent dominance, the Tigers have hit left-handers very well this season. The Tigers own the highest on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers in baseball, though their walk rate still leaves something to be desired. If they can drive his pitch count up early, we could see another offensive burst in the late innings.

Prediction

Scherzer rolls and the Tigers split the home-and-home series.

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