Detroit Tigers (65-78) at Minnesota Twins (75-68)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (12-9, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (10-8, 4.49 ERA)
The Twins are hoping that Phil Hughes, who is returning from the disabled list today from a back injury, will be a shot in the arm for their rotation down the stretch. They have struggled without him, limping to a 4.67 ERA in the second half, the fifth-worst total in the American League (the Tigers are dead-last at 5.49). Hughes, who has been dealing with nagging back issues, has a 6.53 ERA in four second-half starts, including a rough loss to the Cleveland Indians before he hit the DL in August.
For the year, Hughes has struggled to maintain the elite strikeout-to-walk ratio he posted in 2014. While no one expected another record-breaking performance, Hughes' strikeout rate is a paltry 14 percent this year, well below his career average of 19.3 percent. His 5.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio still ranks fourth in the American League, but he is allowing far more balls in play than anyone else in the top 20.
The BABIP gods haven't come back to bite him, but his previous home run troubles have. Hughes has allowed 28 home runs this year, and is on pace to double his 2014 total. Target Field's spacious outfield hasn't helped either; 14 of those home runs have come at home, where he sports a solid 3.91 ERA. While FIP suggests that the home-road difference is negligible, one might estimate that the Twins' rangy outfielders have a larger impact in their bigger ballpark -- a yard they are more familiar with, to boot -- where they can run down numerous fly balls into the gaps. Hughes' significant BABIP split (.271 at home, .336 on the road) supports this idea.
Alfredo Simon's luck against the Indians finally ran out in his last start. After winning his first four meetings with the Tribe this season, the Indians roughed him up for five runs on nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. Simon was spared his 10th loss of the season thanks to the Tigers offense tying things up in the eighth, but Michael Brantley's two-run homer proved the difference in the bottom of the frame.
This was the sixth time this season that Simon has been spared a loss when allowing four earned runs or more. This is the second-highest total in the American League (tied with Phil Hughes, coincidentally), trailing only Drew Hutchison of the Toronto Blue Jays. In his last 15 starts, Simon has a 7.10 ERA and a 5.93 FIP.
Hitter to fear: Kurt Suzuki (.455/.455/1.091 in 11 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Torii Hunter (.100/.231/.200 in 13 plate appearances)
Simon has made two starts against the Twins this season with polar opposite results. In his first outing, Simon limited the Twins to a run on six hits in 7 2/3 innings. Ironically, he did not get the win, but the Tigers came out on top in a 2-1 contest. Fast forward two months, and the Twins knocked Simon out in the third inning of a start at Target Field. He allowed seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits, and the Twins coasted to a 9-5 victory.
I eagerly await the day this offseason when some non-Tigers general manager signs Alfredo Simon, citing his 2015 win total as a reason why he can help their team's rotation. Simon's 4.94 ERA is the seventh-highest among qualified MLB pitchers, while his 4.77 FIP is fifth. Unfortunately for the Twins, Phil Hughes is also in that conversation, and he's under contract for four more seasons. Given the Tigers' not-so-recent power outage -- they have 54 home runs in the second half, tied for 10th in the AL -- scoring runs may prove more difficult than Hughes' numbers indicate. This could still be a slugfest, though.
Both starters allow four runs, neither gets a decision, and the Tigers take far too long to lose a baseball game.