Detroit Tigers (64-76) at Cleveland Indians (69-70)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (3-7, 3.43 ERA) vs. RHP Cody Anderson (3-3, 3.72 ERA)
The BABIP fairy has been kind to Cody Anderson this season. Just one season after allowing a 5.44 ERA and 4.99 FIP in 125 2/3 innings at Double-A, Anderson has risen quickly to the back of the Indians' rotation. He posted a .273 BABIP in 52 Double-A innings this year before earning a brief pit-stop at Triple-A Columbus. Now, in 11 starts for the Indians, Anderson has a 3.72 ERA that is buoyed by a microscopic .224 BABIP. He is striking out 11.3 percent of batters and has a 4.34 FIP. Regression is coming for the 24-year-old righthander, even if he is coming off seven shutout innings against the Tigers five days ago.
There are reasons to believe Anderson could be a competent back-end starter going forward. His fastball, which averages 93.5 miles per hour, has a lot of movement on it, generating a high ground ball rate. Anderson has thrown it nearly 60 percent of the time in his 65 1/3 major league innings, and opponents are hitting just .241 off that pitch. His changeup has been even better, with a 56 percent ground ball rate and a .169 average against (BABIP caveats again apply). He doesn't walk many batters (including lefties), and does a decent job of limiting home runs. He will strike out more batters as he progresses, especially if he improves his cutter.
On the other side of Anderson's stellar day against the Tigers on Sunday was Justin Verlander. Once again, the Tigers' ace pitched well enough to win, but fell victim to a lack of run support. It was the second time the Tigers had been shut out in Verlander's past four starts, and the sixth time they have scored two runs or fewer for him since the All-Star break. This has somewhat overshadowed how great Verlander has been. His 2.60 second half ERA ranks third among American League pitchers, while his 2.84 FIP is fourth. He's also one of only five MLB pitchers with at least 2.0 fWAR in that span.
Hitter to fear: Carlos Santana (.220/.310/.600 in 58 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jason Kipnis (.103/.229/.128 in 48 plate appearances)
If there is a hurdle for Verlander to clear before any last doubters consider him "back," pitching in Progressive Field is it. Verlander has struggled in Cleveland during his career, posting a 5.35 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 23 starts. Indians hitters are batting .255/.326/.426 against him at home, which is 25 percent better than his career .666 OPS against. Current Tribe hitters have not done so well, however, with a .695 OPS in 281 career plate appearances. Michael Brantley leads the way with 18 hits in 59 at-bats, but Carlos Santana has six home runs in 58 trips to the plate.
The Tigers have put up some impressive run totals at Progressive Field this season, scoring 47 runs in seven games. This includes five games of seven runs or more, all wins. They have perked up some in September after a lackluster August, scoring five or more runs in five of their nine games this month. Now that the Tigers are getting their second look at Anderson in a week's time, they should put together a much stronger showing tonight.
Verlander outduels Anderson and the Tigers even the series.