Detroit Tigers (13-10) at Minnesota Twins (7-17)
Time/Place: 2:10 p.m., Target Field
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 4.64 ERA) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 3.25 ERA)
If there were a consensus list of the worst contracts in Major League Baseball, there would be some familiar names on it. Aging superstars can be an anchor on a team's payroll, and there are plenty of players making $20+ million per season that don't come close to producing what they are paid to. The Twins have one such player in Joe Mauer, who is still owed $69 million over the next three seasons.
Then there's Ricky Nolasco. Sure, he's nowhere near the same burden on the Twins' payroll that Mauer is, but his four-year, $49 million contract signed prior to the 2014 season was doomed from the start. Nolasco only pitched 196 1/3 innings combined in 2014 and 2015, producing an 11-14 record and 5.64 ERA. A decent 4.15 FIP helped him accumulate 1.6 fWAR during that span, but the Twins were obviously hoping for more when they inked him to the then-largest free agent contract in team history.
This year has been different, though. Nolasco was the rock of the Twins' rotation in April, working 27 2/3 innings across four starts with a 3.25 ERA. He struck out 24 batters in those four starts and walked just three, while the Twins went on to win three of the four games he pitched in. There's some small sample noise involved -- his ground ball rate is higher than ever and he's riding a .250 BABIP -- but he's attacking the strike zone more and forcing hitters to beat him.
Tigers hitter to fear: Mike Aviles (.571/.571/.857 in 14 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Justin Upton (.214/.313/.214 in 16 plate appearances)
Given how poorly he has pitched over the past two seasons, it comes as no surprise that Nolasco's numbers against the Tigers offense are so bad. The current roster is batting .325/.373/.455 against him, and that includes an 0-for-6 performance from Mike Pelfrey dating back to their days in the National League. Mike Aviles, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler are all batting above .400 in 14 or more plate appearances, while Aviles and Nick Castellanos are the two Tigers who have homered off Nolasco.
This game will be the first time that most Twins hitters will have faced Pelfrey, and it's difficult to predict how this will turn out. The Twins have hit slightly better against ground ball pitchers this season, continuing the damage they did against groundballers in 2015. Pelfrey looked much better in his last outing, and was a couple of key defensive plays from holding the Oakland A's to a pair of runs in six-plus innings. The Tigers offense still has yet to score a run this season while Pelfrey is in the game, but given the way they have looked over the past few days, this streak will probably come to an end soon.
Pelfrey gets his first win and the Tigers sweep.
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