Detroit Tigers (72-83) at Texas Rangers (84-71)
Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Globe Life Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (4-8, 3.49 ERA) vs. RHP Colby Lewis (17-8, 4.36 ERA)
Colby Lewis' numbers make it seem as if he is a lousy pitcher backed by a world of run support, but his numbers are largely skewed by a few bad outings. Take his second half, for example. Lewis has a 3.83 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break, slightly better than his season-long ERA of 4.36. However, of the 36 earned runs he has allowed, 18 have come in just three starts. He has nine quality starts in this stretch, including a dominant performance against the Tigers on August 21, when he threw seven shutout innings in a 2-0 win over Justin Verlander.
A heavy fly ball pitcher, Lewis doesn't rack up many strikeouts. His 44.4 percent fly ball rate ranks fifth among qualified MLB pitchers, and is a big reason why his .280 BABIP is well below the league average. He still allows his fair share of home runs, but has actually given up more dingers on the road this season. Ballpark upgrades at Globe Life Park have lessened the infamous "jet stream" to right-center field, but the park still plays very hitter-friendly. Still, Lewis has held opponents to a .682 OPS in his home park in large part thanks to a 5.6 percent walk rate.
Justin Verlander was even more dominant than the final line of his last start suggests. He allowed just two hits through his first six innings of work, one of which landed in the right field seats as a visibly frustrated Verlander stewed over a close ball four from the previous at-bat. He ran into trouble in the seventh, but hit 99 miles per hour on the gun before striking out Geovany Soto with a 98 mile per hour fastball to end the inning. The fastball wasn't the only pitch Verlander had working, as he registered strikeouts with the curveball, changeup, and slider on the afternoon.
Hitter to fear: Mike Napoli (.310/.412/.517 in 34 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.242/.286/.303 in 35 plate appearances)
The rejuvenated Verlander has already faced the Rangers once this season, allowing two runs (one earned) in seven innings with eight strikeouts. This is nothing new for Verlander, who has dominated Texas throughout his career. He has a 2.99 ERA and 3.30 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 93 1/3 innings, and the Rangers are batting .227/.284/.334 against him. Current Rangers have been slightly better, backed by Shin-Soo Choo's solid on-base percentage and Mike Napoli's .929 OPS in 34 plate appearances. Those two and Adrian Beltre are the only three Rangers to have ever homered off Verlander.
The Rangers have been better on the road than at home this season, but they are getting hot at the right time. They are 16-9 in September and a whopping 42-25 in the second half, springing them past the Astros and Angels into the AL West lead. They are 23-9 at home since the All-Star break, and are scoring 5.36 runs per game in September. The Tigers have been going in the exact opposite direction, but are 7-5 in their last two weeks of action. This series may go in Texas' favor, but the Tigers have a major edge tonight with Verlander on the mound.
The bats wake up and Verlander notches his fifth win of the year.