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Game 157 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Texas Rangers

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The Rangers send Cole Hamels to the mound to face Daniel Norris, who has allowed one hit in his last two starts.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (73-83) at Texas Rangers (74-82)

Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Globe Life Park

SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (2-2, 3.88 ERA) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (11-8, 3.56 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Norris 11 53.1 7.09 2.87 1.35 1.20 4.59 4.35 0.4
Hamels 30 197.1 9.08 2.65 0.87 1.21 3.38 3.47 4.1

Like many starting pitchers in recent memory, Cole Hamels struggled in his first few starts after being traded to the Rangers in late July. He allowed 12 runs in his first three starts, allowing five home runs in the process. He notched his first win in a Rangers uniform at Comerica Park on August 23, but only struck out two in six innings while allowing eight hits. It wasn't until his next start that he finally looked like the Cole Hamels the Rangers traded for, striking out 10 in eight stellar innings against the Baltimore Orioles.

If we include those last two August starts, Hamels is 5-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last seven outings. The Rangers have won all seven of those games, and Hamels has 41 strikeouts to 12 walks in 48 innings. His strikeout numbers have dipped somewhat, but with three starts of eight punchouts or more, he still has the ability to make batters miss when necessary. If anything, his strikeout numbers with the Phillies are skewed by an awful NL East division. His 12.5 swinging strike percentage in a Rangers uniform is nearly identical to his 12.4 percent career rate.

These numbers would be impressive for a single season alone, but Hamels has been doing this for the better part of a decade. Barring injury, Hamels should eclipse the 200-inning barrier tonight, his seventh time in the past eight seasons (he was seven innings shy of 200 in 2009). During that time, Hamels has a remarkable 3.23 ERA, 3.39 FIP, and 3.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio with only one season north of a 3.60 ERA. He may not get the same hype that some of his peers do -- he only has three All-Star appearances and has never finished higher than fifth in Cy Young voting -- but there is no question that the Rangers found themselves an ace this season.

Daniel Norris may not be an ace in the making -- we'll settle for a solid No. 2/3 starter, thank you very much -- but he has certainly looked the part in his last two outings. Norris has allowed just one hit, a solo home run, in his last 8 2/3 innings, striking out eight without walking a batter. He worked five perfect innings in his last start before departing due to his pitch count. Would it have hurt Norris to throw another 15-20 pitches? Probably not, but there are a lot of ways where that 15-20 pitches could have turned into 30-40 if he kept his perfect game intact.

Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.727/.800/1.091 in 15 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.143/.200/.357 in 15 plate appearances)

The Tigers have vowed to limit Miguel Cabrera's starts over the final week of the season, but tonight may not be the night to start. Cabrera has eight hits in 11 career at-bats against Hamels, including one of his 16 career triples. Cabrera went 2-for-3 in their meeting earlier this season, as did outfielder Tyler Collins. The current Tigers roster is batting .345/.415/.534 in 65 plate appearances. Victor Martinez, who has two hits in 14 at-bats, has the lone home run off Hamels.

Outlook

With the Rangers currently on a three-game skid, their once-lofty perch atop the AL West has become a bit shaky. They still lead the Houston Astros by 1 1/2 games, but a three-game win streak by the Astros -- including two against Texas over the weekend -- has closed the gap. Texas has a four-game series remaining against the Los Angeles Angels, who are very much in the hunt, while the Astros have five road games against west coast also-rans. With their ace on the mound, tonight's game is close to a must-win for Texas.

Prediction

Hamels outlasts Norris and the Tigers bullpen does its thing.

★★★

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is running a $1,000,000 fantasy football league for week 1. It's $5 to enter and first place wins $100,000. Click here to join.