Minnesota Twins (18-14) at Detroit Tigers (19-13)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Kyle Gibson (3-2, 2.97 ERA) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (4-1, 3.44 ERA)
Kyle Gibson is living proof that ERA isn't everything when it comes to pitching analysis. The 27-year-old righthander has a solid 2.97 ERA in six starts, four of which resulted in Twins victories. He has a 0.86 ERA in his last three starts, and has pitched into the eighth inning twice. He is averaging over six innings per start, a figure that resonates more with the Twins, whose bullpen pitched the fourth-most innings in baseball last season. On the surface, Gibson is having a breakout season.
Then, I saw his strikeout rate. Gibson has just 11 strikeouts to 15 walks this season, the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio among qualified MLB pitchers. He has a .256 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) for the season, and .185 in his past three starts. He has stranded 78 percent of baserunners allowed this year, and his 23.4 percent line drive rate is one of the higher figures in the game.
It's easy to point at the above paragraph and say that regression is coming, and in the end, it probably is. However, there are some encouraging signs. Gibson is inducing twice as many ground balls as fly balls, one of 21 qualified MLB pitchers who can make that claim. His two-seam fastball is generating grounders at a 58 percent clip, and his changeup and slider are both above 50 percent. Eight of his 11 strikeouts are against left-handed batters, who have a .661 OPS against him this year (though a .243 BABIP). Most importantly, he is staying out of the middle of the strike zone.
Alfredo Simon would be wise to follow the lead of Shane Greene, who has seemingly been one step ahead of the 34-year-old righthander all season. Greene got off to his hot start just before Simon, and also hit a major slide before the Dominican product. Granted, Simon's lows haven't been quite so low -- he has just one start with more than three runs allowed this season -- but an outing reminiscent of the three-start stretch he had from April 15 to 25 would be a good sign for the Tigers. Simon's peripherals aren't pretty either, but he has shown an occasional strikeout touch. He has struck out six batters or more in a pair of starts already this season, something he only did six times all last season.
Hitter to fear: Kurt Suzuki (.429/.429/1.286 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Joe Mauer (.000/.000/.000 in 5 plate appearances)
Simon only has one career start against the Twins, and it came back in 2011. As you might expect, only two players from that day's lineup -- Joe Mauer and Trevor Plouffe -- are still around today. Mauer is hitless in five career at-bats against Simon, while the red-hot Plouffe is 1 for 3. As a team, the Twins rank fourth in the AL with 4.72 runs scored per game despite a .678 team OPS that ranks below the league average.
Gibson has seen plenty of the Tigers in his three year career, making six starts. He is probably already sick of them, though. Gibson has allowed a 7.04 ERA and .829 OPS in 30 2/3 innings against the Tigers, and has a 2-4 record. Three Tigers hitters have an OPS of 1.000 or better in at least 14 plate appearances, with the ready-to-breakout J.D. Martinez leading the way.
The Tigers are entering the final series of an early season gauntlet against the AL Central, and, all things considered, they are sitting in a good spot. No one expected the Twins to roar back into contention after getting whitewashed by the Tigers to open the season -- Twinkie Town's Jesse Lund called it the baseball version of an atomic wedgie -- but here they are. The Tigers don't need to start jostling for divisional positioning yet, but wins against AL Central rivals are always important in the grand scheme of things. With an off day behind them and a favorable opponent ahead, expect a bit more life out of the offense tonight.
Runs. Lots of runs.
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