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Game 109 Preview: Tigers at Yankees

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The Tigers kick off a four game series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Max Scherzer and Brandon McCarthy are tonight's starting pitchers.

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (61-47) at New York Yankees (57-53)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium

SB Nation blog: Pinstripe Alley

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (13-3, 3.27 ERA) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (6-10, 4.56 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Scherzer 22 146.0 10.29 2.53 0.86 1.17 3.00 2.98 3.5
McCarthy 22 134.1 7.57 1.61 1.14 1.36 3.68 3.08 1.7

Brandon McCarthy made 18 starts for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, allowing a 5.01 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP in 109 2/3 innings. Based on these numbers, general manager Kevin Towers' decision to trade McCarthy to the Yankees in exchange for lefty Vidal Nuno seems like a good idea, correct? Not if you look deeper. Despite the ugly ERA, McCarthy held opponents to a respectable 3.82 FIP and a 4.65 strikeout-to-walk ratio, his best since the 2011 season. The strikeout rate itself is the highest of McCarthy's career, and his elevated home run rate -- which tends to happen in Arizona -- kept his FIP as high as it was. His 2.91 xFIP with the Diamondbacks (it's 2.96 for the entire season) ranks 10th in all of baseball, and his 3.08 SIERA ranks 13th.

Now in New York, McCarthy's results are finally starting to match his stellar peripherals. He is 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA in his first four starts, all Yankee victories. He has also tallied 20 strikeouts to just four walks in 24 2/3 innings, good enough for a 3.06 FIP. How good is this? Teammate Masahiro Tanaka ranks 20th among qualified pitchers with a 3.07 FIP. Unfortunately for baseball fans everywhere, McCarthy also leads Tanaka in healthy UCLs, 2 to 1.

While he has done a great job of limiting walks throughout his career, McCarthy still allows plenty of baserunners. Even during his short-but-dominant stretch in a Yankees uniform, he has given up 28 hits in 24 2/3 innings. His change in repertoire a few years back -- he relies heavily on a two-seam fastball now -- left him vulnerable to the BABIP gods, and they have gotten their vengeance this season. He allowed a .347 BABIP with the Diamondbacks, and things haven't improved much (.333) in New York. However, his .251 BABIP on ground balls is right around the league average.

Don't look now, but Max Scherzer is leading the American League in wins again. It took him a few more starts to get to the top of the list this season, but his recent performance has led to a swift ascent up the rankings. Scherzer went 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA and a 3.03 FIP in July, leading the Tigers to a 4-1 record in games that he started. It was a huge improvement from June, when he allowed a 4.81 ERA and an opposing batting average of .286. In his last start, he dominated the Chicago White Sox for seven innings, picking up his fourth win of the season at their expense.

Hitter to fear: Jacoby Ellsbury (.462/.611/.769 in 18 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Brett Gardner (.000/.125/.000 in 16 plate appearances)

With numbers like those, it's safe to say that Jacoby Ellsbury owns Max Scherzer. Ellsbury's 1.380 OPS ranks eighth among players with at least 10 career plate appearances against Scherzer, behind names like Jose Bautista, Shin-Soo Choo, and Yoenis Cespedes (your move, Billy Beane). Ellsbury is also one of two Yankees with an OPS above .700 against Scherzer, the other being Derek Jeter at .701. The rest? Well, it's not pretty. Brett Gardner's .125 OPS is entire thanks to two walks in 16 plate appearances, while the newest Yankee -- shortstop Stephen Drew -- has just three hits in 19 at-bats. Catcher Brian McCann is also hitless in nine plate appearances against Scherzer, but has drawn four walks.

Of note on the other side of the ball: Miguel Cabrera is hitting .417/.493/.967 with 10 home runs in 71 career plate appearances at the new Yankee Stadium.

If you're not following Brandon McCarthy on Twitter...

...you should be.

His wife is worth a follow too.

Outlook

With Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list, McCarthy might be the toughest pitching matchup that the Tigers will face in this series. His peripheral numbers have been solid all season long, and he has taken his game to another level since arriving in the Bronx. McCarthy will need to be on top of his game tonight, because this is not the Yankees offense we've become accustomed to over the years. Their .717 home OPS ranks eighth in the American League, and they have a run differential of -36 at Yankee Stadium this season. That said, Scherzer has struggled against the Yankees in his career and sports a career ERA of 5.17 at Yankee Stadium.

Prediction

The Tigers pull out a close win in a pitcher's duel.

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