Detroit Tigers (21-14) at St. Louis Cardinals (24-10)
Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium
SB Nation blog: Viva El Birdos
Pitching Matchup: RHP Shane Greene (3-2, 4.71 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Martinez (3-1, 4.89 ERA)
Carlos Martinez and Shane Greene have had similar seasons thus far. Martinez made a relief appearance on Opening Night against the Chicago Cubs, then logged a 1.80 ERA through his first four starts of the season, all Cardinals victories. Martinez's more electric arsenal resulted in 23 strikeouts in his first 25 innings of the season, while his walk rate sat at a respectable 3.24 batters per nine innings. The transition to May has been unkind, however. Martinez has been shelled for 14 runs on 16 hits in his last nine innings. He has walked 12 batters during that stretch, raising his season-long walk rate to an unsightly 12 percent.
Surprisingly, walks have never been a major issue for Martinez. He walked 8.5 percent of the batters he faced in the minor leagues and had a career major league walk rate of 8.8 percent entering this season. That walk rate is higher than the league average, but Martinez has the kind of power arm that can be prone to wild spurts. His fastball has averaged 95.6 miles per hour this season and can reach the high 90s in spurts. He features the kind of sharp slider you would expect out of a power righthander, and it's devastating against right-handed batters. They are hitting .176 with no power off the slider in his career, while lefties are hitting a robust .356 with a .578 slugging average.
Lefties hit Martinez better overall, at .287/.374/.461 for his career, an .835 OPS. His changeup has been a weapon against them, resulting in an 18 percent whiff rate and a .125 batting average in his career. However, he still throws the slider to lefties quite often, including nearly 30 percent when ahead in the count in 2015. Left-handed batters are also hitting over .300 against his fastball, though not when you would expect. Martinez has allowed opposing batters (both righties and lefties) to hit just .247 with a .407 slugging average on the first pitch of an at-bat in his career.
Shane Greene looked like his "old" self in his last start, holding the Kansas City Royals to one run on four hits in eight innings. The Royals were the fifth team Greene has faced this season, and the fourth that he held to one run or fewer in their first meeting of the season. Greene only induced six whiffs in 96 pitches during that outing, but this was to be expected against a Royals offense that strikes out less than any other team in baseball.
Much was made of pitching coach Jeff Jones' visit to the mound in the second inning of Greene's start, and for good reason. After Jones returned to the dugout, Greene retired 15 consecutive Royals hitters and 18 of the last 20 batters he faced. We can only guess what Jones said, but it may have involved Greene's cutter. After relying on his two-seam fastball in the first two innings, Greene used his cutter more heavily through his final six frames. He threw 32 cutters on the evening, a season-high, and is holding opponents to a .189 batting average on that pitch this season.
Hitter to fear: Matt Carpenter (.322/.387/.612 in 137 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jon Jay (.248/.330/.267 in 115 plate appearances)
Neither starter has faced the opposing team in his career prior to tonight's game, which could make for some uncomfortable swings the first time through the lineup. The Cardinals' offense has been one of the best in baseball this season. They rank fifth in the National League in runs scored, fourth in batting average, and second in on-base percentage. Their batting order has been paced by Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday, both of whom are hitting above .320 with a combined nine home runs and 44 RBI. Carpenter leads the team with six home runs and a .998 OPS. Middle infielders Kolten Wong and Jhonny Peralta are both hitting well, making them one of the better pairings the Cardinals have seen in recent memory.
Tonight's matchup is interesting. On one hand, you have a pitcher in Greene who has allowed a 2.83 ERA in five starts against teams he is facing for the first time in 2015. Only the Cleveland Indians got to Greene the first time he faced them, while the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox did not have success until Round 2. It's a small sample, but there is evidence that opposing lineups have trouble sizing Greene up the first time they face him.
On the other hand, the Cardinals are one of the most aggressive teams in baseball. They average just 3.66 pitches per plate appearance, the third-lowest rate in baseball. Their 48.5 percent swing rate is the fifth-highest in baseball and their 80.9 percent contact rate is tied for eighth. Greene has continued to pound the zone early in counts, something that could play right into the Cardinals' free-swinging ways tonight.
The Tigers' offense falls back to earth and they drop the first game of the series.
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