Los Angeles Angels (64-61) at Detroit Tigers (59-66)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Pitching Matchup: LHP Hector Santiago (7-7, 2.91 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-6, 3.86 ERA)
Hector Santiago, an All-Star in 2015, is a trivia answer that you are not going to remember in 10 years. Or, if he has his way, maybe even just five. After posting a 7-4 record and 2.30 ERA in the first half, Santiago has had a lot of trouble since the All-Star break. The 27-year-old lefthander has a 4.62 ERA and a 4.61 FIP in his last seven starts, which includes a pair of stellar outings. He has been more inefficient than ever, though, working six innings in just two of his past seven starts.
There were signs that this regression was coming, though. Santiago's 2.30 first-half ERA was backed by a 3.96 FIP. His 7.6 percent walk rate was nice, but far lower than his 10 percent career rate. His .244 BABIP was likely unsustainable, though a fly ball rate north of 50 percent will naturally deflate that metric. That fly ball rate should keep him relatively insulated from too much regression, though, and his 2.64 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half is still much better than his career mark. If he can start to pitch more efficiently -- he is averaging over 18 pitches per inning in the second half -- then the numbers should start to even out.
I'm not sure where exactly the tipping point is on the "Justin Verlander is back" scale, but I feel like we've already hit it. After putting an ERA of 6.62 in his first six starts, Verlander has been on a tear lately, cutting that figure to under 4.00 for the first time since May 2014. He has a 2.65 ERA and a 2.69 FIP in his last eight starts, which includes a better-than-it-looks seven-run outing against the Baltimore Orioles. Of note: Verlander has an 11.7 percent swinging strike rate during this stretch, which matches the figures he was putting up during his heyday from 2009 to 2012. His fastball is no longer hitting 100 miles per hour, but he is generating whiffs at close to a 10 percent clip with that pitch in 2015.
Hitter to fear: Albert Pujols (.500/.636/.875 in 22 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Shane Victorino (.077/.077/.077 in 12 plate appearances)
Verlander has had successful outings against the Angels in the past -- his near-no-hitter in 2011 comes to mind -- but he has struggled against the Halos throughout most of his career. He has a 4.07 ERA against them in 13 starts with a pedestrian 2.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio. To make matters worse, current Angels players are hitting a combined .302/.382/.426 off him, including eight hits in 16 at-bats for the ever-dangerous Albert Pujols. Mike Trout is just 1-for-6, but the lone hit was a home run.
Between their current four-game skid and an eight-game losing streak against the Angels that dates back to 2014, the Tigers have a pair of scores to settle tonight. Verlander himself was beaten by the Angels in his lone start against them last season, allowing three runs in seven innings. Snapping that streak and staying out of last place won't be easy, though. The Angels have a relatively successful history against Verlander, and their righty-heavy lineup may work well against the Tigers' top starter, who has allowed a pretty significant reverse split this season. There's also the run support issue, which plagued Verlander again in his last start when the Tigers were shut out. But hey, happy Verlander Day!
The Angels scratch across a few early runs and make the lead stand up for their second consecutive win.
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