Houston Astros (27-14) at Detroit Tigers (24-17)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Crawfish Boxes
Pitching Matchup: RHP Scott Feldman (3-4, 5.06 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (3-1, 3.40 ERA)
Scott Feldman was a puzzling signing for the Astros last offseason. Coming off a 51-111 record in 2013, the Astros gave Feldman a contract worth $30 million over three years. He was (and remains) Houston's most expensive player, but only contributed 1.5 WAR in 180 1/3 innings last season. Feldman's 3.74 ERA was slightly better than his 4.11 FIP, a figure hurt by his paltry 14 percent strikeout rate. This rate was a bit low for his standards, and he has bounced back to the 16-17 percent range that he settled in during his final few seasons with the Texas Rangers.
If Feldman's résumé sounds a bit boring, his pitching arsenal won't be much better. He works his two-seam fastball in the low 90s and generates more ground balls than fly balls (his ground ball rate is up over the 50 percent plateau this season). He also uses a cutter and curveball pretty regularly, throwing both pitches at least 25 percent of the time. His changeup will make a rare appearance against left-handed batters, but he has not used that pitch as often as usual in 2015. None of his pitches generate many swings and misses, but all four have induced a ground ball rate of 48 percent of better since the start of the 2013 season. As the Astros' infield defense improves -- namely, whenever they call up uber-prospect Carlos Correa -- we could see a decent improvement in Feldman's ERA.
David Price did not make many mistakes in his last start. He struck out nine St. Louis Cardinals hitters in 6 2/3 innings and held them without a baserunner for three innings in the middle of his outing. However, what mistakes he did make were punished, resulting in three solo home runs. Price only allowed the three runs on the afternoon, helping the Tigers to steal a 4-3 victory from the team with baseball's best record. He has had trouble with the home run ball before, but it has not been as big of an issue when pitching at home. In 13 starts at Comerica Park since donning a Tigers uniform, Price has only allowed five home runs, or roughly one every 15 innings.
Hitter to fear: Jose Altuve (.273/.273/.273 in 11 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Chris Carter (.143/.250/.214 in 16 plate appearances)
Reigning AL batting champion Jose Altuve is one of seven players on the Astros roster who has ever faced Price in game action, and one of three with at least 10 plate appearances. Altuve's .273 average (three hits in 11 at-bats) is the only one above .250, and his .545 OPS ranks third. Needless to say, Price has had little trouble with the Astros in the past, holding them to a .211 batting average and .589 OPS in five starts. This Astros offense is far different, however. They hit home runs by the bunches, and Price has had trouble keeping the ball in the park lately. They have been a league average unit against left-handed pitching, however, with a .723 OPS and 101 wRC+ heading into yesterday's game action.
The Astros come into Detroit riding high. They currently have the best record in the American League and are quickly leaving the rest of the AL West in the rearview mirror. The Astros, who lead all of baseball with 60 home runs, are already 5 1/2 games up on the second-place Los Angeles Angels and eight games ahead of the Seattle Mariners. Feldman has struggled, but the Astros' pitching staff has the fourth-best ERA and the lowest walk rate in the American League. Their rotation has not been as prolific -- they're in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories -- which could help jumpstart this Tigers' offense.
The day/night phenomenon continues and the Tigers win easily.
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