Detroit Tigers (55-60) at Houston Astros (63-53)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Minute Maid Park
SB Nation blog: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (1-5, 4.57 ERA) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (13-6, 4.22 ERA)
A year after bursting onto the scene with a 3.3 WAR season that saw him finish fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, Collin McHugh is falling back to earth. It's not exactly surprising. After washing out with the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies, McHugh found his command, struck out a batter per inning, and limited opponents to a .259 batting average on balls in play. This season, the BABIP has normalized, the strikeout rate has fallen, and his ERA has followed suit.
This doesn't mean that 2015 is a lost season, though. McHugh's 4.22 ERA is worse than league average, but he has a solid-if-unspectacular 3.78 FIP and is averaging 6 1/3 innings per start. There's plenty of value in this -- the Tigers would love to have a 2.2 WAR starter, after all -- and Houston hasn't hedged their bets on McHugh returning to the top-of-the-rotation status he held in 2014. To his credit, McHugh has kept his walk rate low, resulting in a solid 3.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He is using his slider more often, but after opponents hit .204 against it in 2014, they are batting .311 with a .452 slugging average this season.
It's cherrypicking, but Justin Verlander's recent numbers look far better than the ones in the table above. In his last six starts, Verlander has a 3.35 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 7.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Opponents are batting .248 with a .270 on-base percentage during this stretch, and it's not BABIP luck. He has increased his fly ball rate to 47.1 percent, which would rank fourth among qualified starters in Major League Baseball this season. Verlander's fly ball rate this season is still very high at 46 percent, but a slew of home runs in his first few starts largely skewed his peripherals. Now that his home run rate has returned to a career norm, we could be seeing a glimpse of the "real" Verlander moving forward.
Hitter to fear: Jose Altuve (.667/.667/1.000 in 3 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jed Lowrie (.118/.167/.176 in 18 plate appearances)
Verlander hasn't seen much of the Astros in his career, but he has completely dominated the few matchups these two parties have had. He has given up six runs in 26 1/3 innings, but the true dominance is reflected in a .492 OPS from Astros batters. Of course, this isn't entirely fair to Houston, since the Astros are no longer an awful offensive unit, but their players that have faced Verlander previously have been even worse. In 78 plate appearances, current Astros are hitting just .132/.244/.235 against Verlander.
The Astros have been one of the best teams in baseball at home this season, and that is reflected in McHugh's 9-2 record in 11 home starts. However, he has a 4.81 home ERA this season, and opponents are batting .287/.336/.434. A quick glance at his peripherals shows that the home-road difference isn't quite as severe as his ERA suggests, but he has been aided by an Astros offense that has scored 4.82 runs per game in his home outings. Verlander has put up similar splits, with a 2.67 ERA and 3.63 FIP in four road starts this season.
The bullpen ruins another chance at a Verlander win, but the Tigers still get the 'W' with a late rally.
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