Detroit Tigers (76-63) at Cleveland Indians (71-66)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 3.26 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (5-7, 3.99 ERA)
After a disappointing 2013 season that saw Trevor Bauer's prospect sheen all but wiped away, 2014 should be considered a huge success. Bauer posted a 4.15 ERA and 5.08 FIP in 121 1/3 innings at Triple-A Columbus in 2013. He walked 89 batters in 138 1/3 total innings, including four big league starts. His mechanics, by all accounts, were a mess. Then, something clicked.
(Memo to the Indians: this is the part where you give Mickey Callaway a raise)
Bauer has brought his walk rate down to a respectable level this season while bumping his strikeout rate to the cusp of a batter per inning. His 2.35 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't spectacular, but it's a massive improvement over last season's 1.45 at Triple A. Bauer is also doing a fair job of keeping hitters from reaching the seats, especially of late. He only allowed one home run in August and has only given up three long balls since July 1st. His last two starts have been excellent, as he held the Houston Astros and Kansas City Royals scoreless in 11 2/3 combined innings.
Max Scherzer turned in his third consecutive "meh" outing in his last start, allowing six runs (five earned) on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox. The 11 strikeouts and no walks were impressive, but Scherzer was knocked around in a decisive third inning. He gave up four hits and four runs in the frame, capped off by Adam Dunn's final home run in a White Sox uniform. Scherzer was far from sharp all night, however, only logging a pair of 1-2-3 innings all night. If anything, this recent "funk" has helped identify some surprising home/road splits for Scherzer. His road ERA is nearly a full run higher than that at Comerica Park this season, along with a higher WHIP (1.03 at home, 1.24 on the road).
Is there something to this, though? Scherzer's 2.62 road FIP actually indicates that he has been better away from home, but this is misleading. His stellar road FIP is buoyed by a home run per fly ball rate of just 6.9 percent, well below his 11.0 percent mark at home. Scherzer has allowed a much higher BABIP on the road, fueled by a higher line drive rate (22.7 percent, compared to 19.7 percent at home). He is also stranding a lower percentage of baserunners away from Comerica Park. Plenty of hitters are heading back to the dugout empty handed via the strikeout, but those that make contact are doing much more damage.
Hitter to fear: Michael Brantley (.341/.370/.634 in 46 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Carlos Santana (.081/.209/.108 in 43 plate appearances)
Carlos Santana has hurt the Tigers in a big way during this series, belting a pair of two-run home runs and an RBI double in three games. He faces a much stiffer test in this game, one that he has not aced before. Santana has just three hits in 37 career at-bats against Scherzer, though he has walked six times. Overall, Scherzer has held the current Indians roster to a .216/.284/.343 slash line in his career. The 12 Indians that have faced Scherzer previously have combined for 46 hits. Fourteen of those hits (and seven of the 13 doubles) belong to Michael Brantley.
If there is a concern for Indians fans about Bauer, it's that his command issues may be starting to creep back in. He has walked 24 hitters in 51 1/3 innings since the All-Star Break, 20 of which came in 35 August innings. He has given up at least two base on balls in each of his last six starts, and four or more in three of those outings. Is it the "rookie wall?" Or an inevitable slip up for a pitcher who is notorious for tirelessly tinkering with his delivery? Either way, the Tigers should see plenty of baserunners tonight. Can they take advantage?
Scherzer rebounds and the Tigers take three of four.
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