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Game 102 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Baltimore Orioles

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Alfredo Simon returns to Camden Yards tonight, where he will make his first start against the team he broke into the major leagues with in 2008.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (49-52) at Baltimore Orioles (50-49)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Orioles Park at Camden Yards

SB Nation blog: Camden Chat

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (9-6, 4.46 ERA) vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez (9-6, 3.99 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Simon 19 111.0 6.65 3.16 0.89 1.46 3.96 4.38 1.2
Gonzalez 18 106.0 6.79 2.72 1.53 1.23 4.85 4.17 0.3

Miguel Gonzalez is playing for the wrong team. A pitcher with a career 40.3 fly ball percentage, Gonzalez has allowed 80 home runs in 541 2/3 career innings, or 1.33 per nine innings. That home run rate has increased in each of his four full seasons in the major leagues, topping out at 1.53 dingers per nine innings in 2015. The uptick in home runs has led to an increase in ERA from 3.24 in 2014 to 3.99 this season, but the drop-off is not as severe as it could be. Gonzalez's FIP is an unsightly 4.85, nearly identical to what it was in 2014. He doesn't strike many batters out, instead relying on a high percentage of lazy fly balls and pop-ups to keep hitters at bay.

Oddly, despite a higher ERA than 2014, opposing batters are actually hitting worse against Gonzalez this season. He has limited opponents to a .246 batting average and .311 on-base percentage, and his platoon splits are negligible. The problem? Opponents are teeing off on him when he goes to the stretch, batting .277/.352/.475 with runners on base this season. Only seven of the 18 home runs he has allowed have been with runners on, but he has trouble maintaining his command. Of the 160 batters he has faced with a man on base this season, 17 have drawn a walk, a 10.6 percent clip.

After a rough month in which he allowed 34 runs (32 earned) in 28 1/3 innings, it looked as if Alfredo Simon figured something out in his last start. Simon shut down the Boston Red Sox, allowing a run on five hits in six innings. He would have gone longer if not for a groin strain, exiting after just 81 pitches. Simon did a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone, inducing 12 ground balls to just seven flyouts. You have to go all the way back to his April 25 start against the Cleveland Indians to find a better ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.

Tigers hitter to fear: Anthony Gose (.333/.333/.667 in 18 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.125/.222/.125 in 9 plate appearances)

The Tigers have put up great numbers against Gonzalez in his career, batting .330/.419/.582 with six home runs in 105 plate appearances as a team. As expected, he is just 1-2 with a 7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP in four starts, and owns a paltry 1.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, Gonzalez's lone victory came in their last meeting, when he allowed two runs in five innings on July 19. Anthony Gose and Yoenis Cespedes both had hits in that game, giving them a combined 11 in 29 career at-bats against Gonzalez. Gose homered off of Gonzalez in 2014, as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Outlook

With the Tigers unofficially taking themselves out of the 2015 playoff race, it will be interesting to see how the team responds, if at all. Preseason expectations can be a burden, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, you have to wonder if the team has had the same "buy vs. sell" idea in mind. Now, the decision has been made, and the weight has been lifted.

Of course, one game won't tell us everything, especially not when it's against a homer-prone pitcher in a hitter-friendly park on a humid summer evening. Simon's ground ball tendencies could provide an advantage if he keeps the ball down, but Gonzalez has been having the better year thus far. Tonight's game may depend on how the ball travels in the muggy Baltimore air, and it could quickly turn into a slugfest.

Prediction

Baltimore gets to Simon early and continues their winning ways.

★★★

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