Minnesota Twins (78-74) at Detroit Tigers (71-81)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (6-10, 4.16 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (1-5, 7.40 ERA)
Early in the year, Mike Pelfrey looked like a rejuvenated pitcher. He held the Tigers to two runs in seven innings on April 28, and entered a mid-May start against Detroit with a 2.62 ERA. The Tigers torched him for four runs on 10 hits in that start, ballooning his ERA to 3.23, and while he has pitched well at times, there have been many more cracks in the armor. In the 21 starts since that May 14 meeting, Pelfrey has a 3-9 record and 4.46 ERA while allowing opponents to bat .312 with a .356 on-base percentage.
Part of Pelfrey's struggles stem from allowing so much contact. He has only 78 strikeouts in 158 innings this season, including five or more strikeouts in just four of his 28 starts. While there isn't much of a dichotomy between his early season starts and everything since then, Pelfrey's success has largely been predicated on getting ahead early in the count and leaning on his splitter to induce weak contact. His numbers don't show an inordinate improvement when he gets ahead 0-1 compared to the rest of the league, though, and a .278 BABIP on ground balls may be more reflective of his infield defense than himself as a pitcher.
Matt Boyd turned in another solid home start in his last outing, holding the Kansas City Royals to two runs on three hits over six innings. Unfortunately, Boyd's biggest weakness, the home run ball, came to roost again as two of the three hits he allowed were solo home runs. While we originally blamed all of the homers on pitching at a small ballpark like Rogers Centre -- he gave up eight dingers in three starts there this season -- it appears that this permeates deeper than that. Boyd's sky-high 50.9 percent fly ball rate plays well in Comerica Park, but until he can start generating some weaker contact, a lot of those fly balls won't be landing in outfield gloves.
Tigers hitter to fear: Anthony Gose (.417/.500/.583 in 14 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.217/.250/.261 in 24 plate appearances)
The Tigers have scored 11 runs (nine earned) in 19 2/3 innings against Pelfrey this year, but their offensive numbers are relatively subpar for that kind of success. They are batting .276/.309/.421 off him this season, but that .723 OPS is actually lower than the .765 OPS he has given up to all opponents in 2015. Of course, it doesn't help when your three best hitters are all batting .250 or lower. Anthony Gose and the injured Jose Iglesias are the only two Tigers hitting above .300 in more than 10 plate appearances.
The Tigers' struggles against Pelfrey, who owns a 51.5 percent ground ball rate, seem to be indicative of a larger problem. For whatever reason, ground ball pitchers like Pelfrey have held the Tigers in check this season. They are hitting .257/.315/.377 against ground ball pitchers compared to much healthier numbers against everyone else. Their .692 OPS against ground ball pitchers is much lower than their team .747 OPS, which still ranks second in the American League. Something will have to give tonight, though, as opponents own a .782 OPS against Pelfrey in the second half.
The Twins win in a shootout.