Detroit Tigers (64-75) at Cleveland Indians (68-70)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (12-9, 4.86 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (12-8, 3.54 ERA)
Danny Salazar shut down the Tigers in his second start of the season, striking out 11 while limiting them to one run in seven innings. With a shutout of the Tigers already on his résumé from 2014, it looked as if Salazar was well on his way to becoming a "Tigers killer." Instead, the Tigers have bounced back against him, scoring 16 runs (15 earned) in their last three meetings. The Tigers clubbed Salazar for six runs on eight hits just five days ago, a 6-0 Detroit victory.
This kind of punishment hasn't been the norm for Salazar. He has a 3.20 ERA in the second half, with eight quality starts in his last 10 outings. He was coming off a stellar effort against the Toronto Blue Jays. Salazar struck out 10 in a 4-2 win at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre in Toronto. The high strikeout totals are normal for Salazar, who has a 27.4 strikeout rate on the season. This is the seventh-highest total among qualified pitchers in Major League Baseball (and third-highest on his team, amazingly).
The strikeouts have always been there, but Salazar has taken strides forward in other areas. His 6.8 percent walk rate is the lowest of his brief career, and his 4.02 strikeout-to-walk ratio is an improvement from 2014. Opponents are batting .224/.283/.396 against him, including a .716 OPS for lefties. The only blemish on his ledger is an elevated home run rate, resulting in the highest FIP of his career, at 3.70 (must be nice). However, with an improving ground ball rate, one would expect the homer totals to decline next season.
For all his troubles this season, Alfredo Simon has dominated the Cleveland Indians. In four starts against the Tribe, Simon is 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA. His 1.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio is nothing special, but he is limiting the Indians to a .217 batting average and .293 on-base percentage in 93 plate appearances. His walk totals are a bit high -- he walked four Indians in last weekend's win -- but has allowed almost zero power, including no home runs.
These solid numbers are but a brief reprieve from what has been an awful few months from him, though. Dating back to Simon's win over the Indians on June 14, he has allowed four runs or more in 11 of his 14 starts. He has a 7.13 ERA during that span, and his 5.81 FIP isn't much better. Opponents are batting .295/.367/.530 during this stretch. They are making hard contact 34.8 percent of the time, a rate that would rank second-highest among qualified MLB pitchers this season. Even when his good April and May numbers are factored in, Simon's hard hit percentage of 32.5 percent ranks eighth-highest.
Hitter to fear: Michael Brantley (.550/.571/.800 in 21 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Carlos Santana (.235/.409/.235 in 22 plate appearances)
Simon's hold over the Indians is nothing new. He posted solid numbers against them when coming out of the bullpen for the Cincinnati Reds from 2012 to 2014, and is having even more success against them with the Tigers this year. Michael Brantley is the only Tribe hitter to bat over .300 against Simon (minimum five plate appearances), but his numbers are well beyond that. Brantley has 11 hits in 20 at-bats, including five doubles. Lonnie Chisenhall is the only Cleveland player that has homered off Simon, while he and Jason Kipnis are the only other ones with doubles.
The Tigers' recent success against Salazar has largely been thanks to contributions from their biggest bats. Miguel Cabrera has a career 1.052 OPS against the 25-year-old righthander, while Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and Rajai Davis are all hitting over .300. This does not guarantee future success, though, and Salazar has generally buckled down after a rough outing. Meanwhile, Simon's recent results don't inspire any confidence, and his relatively meager peripherals against the Tribe suggest that his 2015 success against them is little more than BABIP luck.
Salazar rebounds and the Indians win easily.