Texas Rangers (63-59) at Detroit Tigers (59-63)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Cole Hamels (6-8, 3.86 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (1-3, 7.66 ERA)
Despite struggling a bit after being traded in July, Cole Hamels is on pace to post his ninth consecutive season with at least 180 innings pitched and 3.5 WAR accumulated. He has topped the 200-inning barrier in six of his previous eight seasons, and has just one season with an ERA above 3.10 since 2009. His 3.43 strikeout-to-walk ratio this season would be the second-worst mark of his career, excluding his rookie season in 2006. In other words, he's really good.
Hamels doesn't seem to get a lot of the ace love that other pitchers of his caliber do, though. Part of it is the arsenal -- Hamels' fastball sits around 92 miles per hour, though he is throwing it a bit harder this season -- and part of it may be the lack of an otherworldly-dominant season a la Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw. Hamels' signature pitch is his changeup, a pitch that has led to a slight reverse split in his career. Righties are getting on base against him at a .287 clip, and he has struck out four times as many as he has walked.
Something seems a bit off with Hamels this season, though. His 7.4 percent walk rate is the highest of his career, and he is allowing more baserunners than in any of his past five seasons. He has struggled somewhat since arriving in Texas, allowing 12 runs in 20 2/3 innings across three starts. This includes five home runs, which matched the total for his previous three months combined. That said, I wouldn't worry too much about it. We saw a similar blip from Anibal Sanchez before he turned out 2 1/2 dominant seasons in a Tigers uniform, and other pitches have gone through similar hiccups after being traded mid-season.
Matt Boyd has struggled to get settled after an excellent debut outing in a Tigers uniform. He has given up nine runs in his last 11 innings, including an 18-pitch outing in relief against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday. Boyd, who has pitched 139 1/3 total innings this season, will be watched carefully as the Tigers close out their season. He threw 133 1/3 innings in the Blue Jays' farm system last season, so a minor increase is to be expected, but the Tigers will likely set their cutoff point somewhere in the 150-160 inning range.
Hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.750/.833/1.250 in 12 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.182/.250/.455 in 12 plate appearances)
Hamels has only made one start against the Tigers in his career, a tough-luck loss to a dominant Doug Fister on July 26, 2013. Hamels was sharp over seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits. However, only two players from that day's lineup -- Victor Martinez and Alex Avila -- are still around, and Avila is not in today's starting lineup. Miguel Cabrera has had no trouble with Hamels in previous meetings, but all of those matchups came when Cabrera was in a Marlins uniform nearly a decade ago.
With their win over the Tigers yesterday, the Rangers climbed ahead of the Angels into the AL wild card lead. The Tigers, now four games back, still have a chance to impact the race, but throwing away winnable games like the previous two nights doesn't help. The bullpen is well-rested, but a lengthy outing from Boyd would be nice to see. He has had some tough luck so far -- three of his first four matchups have been against ace-caliber arms -- and it would be nice to get him back into the win column.
Cole Hamels does Cole Hamels things and the Tigers drop their third straight.
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