Detroit Tigers (83-66) at Minnesota Twins (63-86)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (16-5, 3.19 ERA) vs. RHP Anthony Swarzak (3-1, 3.95 ERA)
Left-hander Tommy Milone was originally slated to start tonight's contest, but instead will miss his second start in a row. A tired shoulder held him out of action five days ago, but neck soreness is the reason for today's absence. In his place will be right-hander Anthony Swarzak, who has been one of the best long relievers in baseball over the past couple seasons. He held opponents to a 2.91 ERA and 3.28 FIP in 96 relief innings last year while compiling a 3.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. All but two of his 48 appearances were at least an inning in length, and 10 went three innings or longer.
This year, Swarzak's appearances have generally been shorter in length. Part of this is thanks to an improved Twins' rotation, which has forced him into a middle relief role. Only six of his 46 relief appearances have gone three innings or more in 2014. Two of those outings have come against the Tigers. Regardless of how he has been used, Swarzak has regressed closer to his career norms this season. His 3.95 ERA is a full run higher than in 2013, while his 3.85 FIP is over half a run higher than last season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has dipped all the way to 1.75, and he is giving up over a hit per inning.
A sinkerballer by nature, Swarzak primarily uses a fastball-slider combination with the occasional changeup mixed in to left-handed hitters. Heavy use of the two-seam fastball has only resulted in a 45 percent groundball rate, though that number has slowly started to climb since the All-Star break. Right-handed batters are faring better against Swarzak in 2014, hitting .275/.317/.423 with four home runs. Lefties have not fared quite as well this season, but have typically hit for more power than righties against Swarzak.
Max Scherzer finished with a solid line in his last start, allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings in a win over the Kansas City Royals. However, he walked four batters, marking his fourth outing with three walks or more since August 1st. The outing helped bring his ERA back down -- he had an ERA of 5.11 in his four starts prior -- but something still seemed... off. Hopefully this stretch is just a phase for Scherzer, as his second half numbers on the whole are still spectacular.
Hitter to fear: Kurt Suzuki (.429/.556/.857 in 9 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Trevor Plouffe (.067/.167/.067 in 17 plate appearances)
Scherzer has been very inefficient against the Twins this year, eating just 11 innings across two starts. He has given up six runs on 12 hits with 10 strikeouts to five walks. Basically, he has been the 2014 version of Justin Verlander. Kurt Suzuki has done the most damage against Scherzer in his career, but Brian Dozier -- he of the career .651 OPS against Scherzer -- has been the most lethal Twin in 2014. Dozier has a home run and four RBI off Scherzer this season in six plate appearances. Scherzer has been one of the few Tigers pitchers to hold Eduardo Escobar in check, though. Escobar is a scalding 16 for 39 against Detroit this year, but hitting just .200 against Max.
For once, the Twins have held their own against the Tigers at Target Field. The Tigers were 21-15 in Minneapolis from 2010 to 2013, but are just 3-3 this season and have been outscored 53-44. The Twins have continued to hit well at home, where their .736 home OPS ranks seventh in all of baseball. Their 8.8 percent walk rate has wreaked havoc on Scherzer's pitch count in both of his outings this year. They will need to be at their absolute best, though. Swarzak has allowed a 5.14 ERA and .811 OPS against the Tigers in his career, and both bullpens have been subpar. If I were a gambling man, I'd bet the "over" tonight.
Scherzer settles down after a rocky first few innings and the Tigers win their fourth in a row.
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