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Game 38 Preview: Detroit Tigers at St. Louis Cardinals

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The Cardinals have baseball's best record, but the Tigers are going for a sweep tonight.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (23-14) at St. Louis Cardinals (24-12)

Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium

SB Nation blog: Viva El Birdos

Media: ESPN, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (4-1, 3.05 ERA) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (2-3, 3.27 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Simon 7 44.1 5.89 2.23 0.61 1.20 3.53 4.29 0.8
Lynn 7 41.1 11.10 3.05 0.44 1.28 2.40 3.05 1.3

It sure would be nice to have a guy like Lance Lynn. Drafted by the Cardinals in the supplemental round of the 2008 amateur draft, Lynn progressed quickly through the minors until he spent nearly two full seasons at Triple A. He debuted with the Cardinals during their 2011 World Series run, logging some high leverage relief innings (he worked a scoreless eighth inning in Game 7). Lynn joined the rotation in 2012 and has been there ever since, despite the gripes of some Cardinals fans.

Why would Cardinals fans gripe about a guy that has averaged 194 innings and a 3.48 ERA in his last three seasons? For one, Lynn has underperformed his FIP by a fair margin in two of those years. In 2012 and 2013, Lynn had a combined 3.88 ERA, but a 3.38 FIP. He has been prone to prolonged rough stretches, such as the one in 2012 when he allowed a 4.96 ERA from mid-June onward (beginning with a loss to the Tigers). He has struggled to get lefthanders out, allowing a .355 on-base percentage and .155 ISO in his career. Those numbers improved in 2014, but have regressed back to career norms so far in 2015.

Lynn's arsenal also doesn't inspire a lot of confidence despite the extensive good-but-not-great track record. Lynn has thrown his fastball over 70 percent of the time in his career, one of the higher usage rates you will see. He upped that rate to nearly 80 percent in 2014 and had the best ERA of his career, though that seems to be due to a slight drop in BABIP and rise in strand rate. Lynn's fastball isn't a mid-90s rocket -- it sits in the 92-93 mile per hour range -- but a long stride during his delivery makes it more deceptive than you would expect. Lynn also features a cutter, curveball, and changeup, but the fastball is his bread-and-butter no matter what count he is in.

My skepticism for Alfredo Simon is wearing thin. After a pair of rough outings for the 34-year-old righthander, Simon bounced back in a big way against the Minnesota Twins, allowing just one run on six hits in 7 2/3 innings. He leads the Tigers' rotation with four wins and a 3.05 ERA, and his 1.19 WHIP is decimal points better than Anibal Sanchez's. Simon has a 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has continued to limit home runs, resulting in a 3.54 FIP (which also leads the rotation).

Simon had similar numbers at this point in 2014, but there are a few key differences between last year and the 2015 season. The big one -- and my main reason for optimism -- is that Simon has a .285 BABIP this year, which is in line with his career .282 BABIP. Through seven starts last season, Simon's BABIP was .212. He has maintained a solid walk rate through his first seven starts this year, but has allowed fewer home runs and tallied more strikeouts. Simon already has three starts with six strikeouts or more this season, something he didn't do until the All-Star Break last year.

Hitter to fear: Matt Adams (.429/.500/1.143 in 8 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Matt Holliday (.188/.381/.188 in 21 plate appearances)

Simon has seen the Cardinals plenty of times over the past few years during his time with the Cincinnati Reds, but mostly as a reliever. He made three starts against the Redbirds last season -- all in the second half -- holding them to a 3.44 ERA. Simon gave up 20 hits in 18 1/3 innings, and had 10 strikeouts to six walks. Despite the career 1.34 WHIP, not many Cardinals have had much success against Simon. Yadier Molina and Matt Adams are both hitting above .300, but the current roster is hitting just .220 with a .298 on-base percentage. If you take away pitcher at-bats, that batting average actually drops to .212.

Outlook

Lynn's fastball-heavy approach is an interesting matchup with this Tigers offense. Fangraphs ranks the Tigers as the sixth-best team in baseball against fastballs this season. Meanwhile, PitchFX ranks Lynn's fastball as the second-best in the National League, behind only Max Scherzer. The Tigers roughed up Lynn in their only previous matchup back in 2012, but that lineup had more left-handed batters and featured only one player who is still around today -- two, if you count now-Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Now more experienced, Lynn should have an easier time navigating the Tigers lineup, but taking two out of three isn't bad.

Prediction

Lynn slows down the Tigers' offense and the Cardinals win their 25th game of the year.

★★★

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