Detroit Tigers (66-56) at Tampa Bay Rays (61-63)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (14-4, 2.98 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Archer (8-6, 3.24 ERA)
Chris Archer put together his longest outing of the 2014 season against the Tigers back in July, holding them to two runs -- a pair of solo homers -- on six hits in 8 1/3 innings. It was an odd outing for Archer, however. He only struck out four Tigers, a much lower clip than his season rate of just under a batter per inning. Instead, Archer generated a season-high 16 ground balls resulting in 13 of the 25 outs he recorded. He also walked four hitters, none of which came around to score.
Like many young pitchers with great stuff, Archer had command issues in the minor leagues. He posted a solid walk rate during his rookie season in 2013, but seemed to fall back into old habits when he walked 21 batters in 32 1/3 innings in May. Since then, however, things have been much better. He has 28 walks in 81 2/3 innings since June 1st, and his four walks against the Tigers on July 5th are the only time he has issued more than three free passes in an outing during this stretch.
If Felix Hernandez did not already have a stranglehold on the 2014 AL Cy Young award, then Max Scherzer's recent performance would be viewed as his push for a repeat title. Scherzer was phenomenal again in his last start, abusing the Andrew McCutchen-less Pittsburgh Pirates' offense for eight innings. He only allowed three hits while striking out 14, one shy of his career high (against these same Pirates in 2012, no less). Sure, Hernandez still has a lower ERA since mid-June -- I can't even cherrypick the dates to make Max look better -- but Scherzer has been as dominant as a pitcher can be for the last two months. The Tigers are 7-3 in his last 10 starts. He has allowed a combined five runs in those three losses.
Hitter to fear: Yunel Escobar (.367/.429/.567 in 35 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Desmond Jennings (.133/.133/.200 in 15 plate appearances)
Desmond Jennings hasn't had much of a chance against Scherzer, striking out six times in 15 at-bats. He notched his first extra base hit (a double) against him earlier this year. This has been the theme for the Rays against Max, though. In seven career starts against them, the reigning AL Cy Young winner is 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA. He has allowed Rays batters to hit just .151/.227/.270, though that line improves slightly to .165/.245/.353 in four starts at Tropicana Field. Yunel Escobar is the only Rays hitter with an OPS above .750 against Scherzer, while he and James Loney are the only ones hitting above .150. Five Rays -- Escobar, Loney, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, and Evan Longoria -- have homered off Max before.
The last time the Tigers faced off against Archer, he threw just 106 pitches in 8 1/3 innings. This is a very efficient total, but even more so when you consider that Archer also walked four batters. The Tigers averaged just 3.11 pitches per plate appearance in that game. That said, the decision to swing away may not have been the wrong idea. The Tigers put 10 runners on base against Archer and hit a pair of home runs. However, they were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and both homers came with no one on base. If the Tigers had been able to capitalize on their opportunities, we may have seen a different outcome. Considering Scherzer probably won't give up seven runs -- though the bullpen might give it their best shot -- it may only take one or two key hits to give the Tigers the edge tonight.
Scherzer keeps rolling and the Tigers take the first game of the series.
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