Hey, this seems familiar. After splitting a two-game series at Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Reds will head south on I-75 to the Great American Ballpark, setting for the second half of the interleague home-and-home series. The highlight of the week will be a star-studded pitching matchup on Wednesday night, with Tigers ace David Price taking on Reds righthander Johnny Cueto.
While unfortunate in how it happened -- Reds starter Jon Moscot separated his left shoulder just three batters into Monday night's game -- the Tigers seemed to be off to a great start earlier this week. Anibal Sanchez's recent resurgence was easy to notice, but the offense's performance has quietly gone under the radar. Until Tuesday's 5-2 loss, the Tigers had scored three runs or more in 10 consecutive games. For a club that has been held to two runs or fewer 27 times this season, this recent stretch has been a major improvement.
The key to the offense's surge has been the middle of the batting order. Miguel Cabrera is hitting .386/.460/.659 in June, improving his season-long numbers to a .439 wOBA and 187 wRC+, both of which lead the American League by a wide margin. Amazingly, Cabrera has nearly been overshadowed by Yoenis Cespedes this month, who is hitting .432/.468/.614. Cespedes hasn't quite discovered his power stroke in June, but seems to be relishing the opportunity to hit with runners on base so often. J.D. Martinez's June numbers pale in comparison to the two All-Stars ahead of him, but he is still batting a solid .283/.313/.587. His home run streak was snapped last night, but he has four home runs and 12 RBI in just 12 starts this month.
On the other side, you have a Reds pitching staff that has been decimated by injuries. Both Moscot and Michael Lorenzen, the Reds' starters at Comerica Park, are only on the roster because of injuries, and now Moscot looks DL-bound. Homer Bailey and Raisel Iglesias are also on the disabled list, with Bailey out for the year due to Tommy John surgery. Add in the recently injured Tony Cingrani and the departure of an ineffective Jason Marquis, and the Reds only have three healthy starters who have made 10 or more starts this season.
SB Nation blog: Red Reporter
Game 1: Wednesday, 7:10 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (6-2, 2.44 ERA) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (4-4, 2.85 ERA)
Underestimate Johnny Cueto at your own peril. While not often viewed as one of the elite starting pitchers in baseball, Cueto sure has put up ace-level numbers throughout his career. Since the start of 2011, Cueto has a 2.53 ERA in 762 2/3 innings. Only one pitcher has allowed a lower ERA in as many innings: Clayton Kershaw. Cueto's strikeout numbers pale in comparison to many of his peers, but he has walked a modest 7.1 percent of batters he has faced in his career. He has also made headway in limiting home runs in a small home ballpark, issuing just 61 since the start of 2011.
While Cueto can run his fastball up into the 94-95 mile per hour range on occasion, he has made a career out of inducing weak contact and keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Only Jered Weaver has a lower BABIP than Cueto in 400+ innings since 2011, and only two pitchers -- Kershaw and Yu Darvish -- have allowed a lower batting average. Cueto doesn't induce a high number of ground balls or pop-ups, instead using an unpredictable five-pitch mix to keep opposing hitters off balance. Cueto has lowered his walk rate further this season, with just 14 free passes in 85 1/3 innings.
Game 2: Thursday, 7:10 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (0-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Leake (3-4, 4.35 ERA)
Mike Leake is a pitcher that I have long thought of as a poor man's Rick Porcello. That comparison is a bit unfair to Leake, who has a superior career ERA pitching in a more unforgiving environment, but he is a similar pitcher that has not received the national attention that Porcello has in the past. Leake enjoyed a similar breakout season in 2014, topping the 200-inning barrier for the first time. He won seven games while allowing a 3.42 ERA in the first half, and improved his strikeout rate to a career high 18.2 percent. His ERA climbed a bit in the second half, but he still finished the season with a career-best 2.2 WAR in 33 starts.
Leake's ERA has climbed this season, but that is largely due to a rough three-start stretch at the end of May. Leake allowed 20 runs on 27 hits in just 14 innings in those three losses, but has been as stingy as ever otherwise. He has given up just 54 hits in his other 68 2/3 innings, or just over seven hits per nine innings. Likewise, he has a 3.41 ERA in his other 10 starts, and his 2.80 strikeout-to-walk ratio is much closer to his career rate than the full season numbers suggest. Even Leake's home run troubles are less pronounced outside of those three games, though he has given them up in bunches in the past as well.
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