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Game 121 Preview: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers

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Despite a 2.85 ERA in his last seven starts, Justin Verlander has a 1-3 record in that span.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Rangers (61-59) at Detroit Tigers (59-61)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Colby Lewis (13-5, 4.49 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-5, 4.11 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Lewis 24 152.1 6.74 1.71 1.24 1.19 4.11 4.14 1.9
Verlander 11 70.0 6.94 2.19 1.29 1.20 4.23 4.26 0.8

One year after getting walloped by the injury bug, the Rangers are still feeling some of the effects. Their starting rotation, in particular, has been effected, with Yu Darvish and Martin Perez currently on opposite ends of their respective Tommy John surgery recovery paths. This leaves Colby Lewis as the "staff ace" if we're measuring in innings pitched. Lewis, who had hip resurfacing surgery in 2013, leads the Rangers with 152 1/3 innings pitched in 24 starts. His ERA and FIP aren't spectacular, but he has a 3.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio and is worth 1.9 fWAR. Not bad for $4 million.

Lewis' gaudy strikeout-to-walk ratio is all thanks to a 4.6 percent walk rate, his lowest since 2012. He throws first-pitch strikes nearly two-thirds of the time and gets a fair number of swings and misses for a guy with a fastball that tops out at 91-92 miles per hour. He is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, throwing those two offerings nearly 85 percent of the time. He also mixes in a curveball and changeup to left-handed hitters -- the latter used mostly when he's behind in the count -- but lefties are still hitting .272/.314/.444 off him this season.

If you completely ignored his peripherals, you might blame the Rangers for kick-starting Justin Verlander's "demise" in 2013. The Tigers' righthander had a 1.93 ERA through eight starts heading into a showdown with Yu Darvish on May 16. Verlander lost his command for one rocky inning, and was roughed up for eight runs in 2 2/3 innings, ballooning his ERA by a full run. He got some revenge later that year with seven shutout innings in a Tigers victory, but we're just now starting to see the real Justin Verlander again. The Tigers' ace has allowed just seven hits in his last two starts, and is still in search of his second win of the season thanks to some iffy run support.

Hitter to fear: Mike Napoli (.310/.412/.517 in 34 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.200/.250/.233 in 32 plate appearances)

The Rangers have tagged Verlander in two of their past three meetings, but he has otherwise been his usual dominant self against them. Verlander has eight wins in 14 starts against Texas, and is holding opposing hitters to a .629 OPS. Current Rangers have fared slightly better at .250/.318/.370 thanks to solid production from Shin-Soo Choo and Mike Napoli in other uniforms, and Mitch Moreland has a .935 OPS in 22 plate appearances. Prince Fielder is 0-for-6 with two strikeouts against his former teammate.

Outlook

Heading into tonight's game, both starters are sporting overall numbers that don't tell the full story of their progression through the 2015 season. We're aware of Verlander's resurgence, but Lewis has had a similar high variance to his outings. He has three starts with at least seven earned runs allowed, but has held the opposition to three or fewer in 18 of his 24 appearances (including 12 of his last 14). The Tigers may need to hope for some version of "Bad Lewis" to show up if they are going to get Verlander his second win of the season.

Prediction

The bullpen throws away another Verlander gem, this time ending in a loss.

★★★

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