clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game 33 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Washington Nationals

Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer face their former teams tonight at Nationals Park.

#MaxFace returns
#MaxFace returns
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Fun fact: Jordan Zimmermann is the all-time wins leader in Washington Nationals franchise history. While the Nats do everything in their power to ignore what their franchise did prior to arriving in our nation's capital -- Steve Rogers won 158 games for the Montreal Expos from 1973 to 1985 -- it was surprising to hear that Zimmermann was ahead of Stephen Strasburg (for now).

While the sentimentality should create an electric pregame atmosphere for an otherwise mundane Wednesday night, all of the 'former teammate' storylines end at 7:05 p.m. Zimmermann struggled with his command at times in his previous start against the Texas Rangers, particularly when he hung a fastball to Rougned Odor that landed several rows up in the right field bleachers. While it's a bit awkward to say Zimmermann struggled -- he only allowed three runs in eight innings, after all -- he did not have his best stuff, which resulted in just two strikeouts against the 32 batters he faced.

That low strikeout rate is the only real blemish on Zimmermann's record so far this season, and it's worth wondering how sustainable his current production is. Obviously, the 1.10 ERA is going to rise at some point, but Zimmermann has a lowly 7.0 percent swinging strike rate, the lowest of his career. Opponents are not chasing outside the strike zone as often as in years past, and are making more contact with the pitches they do chase after. His fly ball and pop-up rates are higher, which could help suppress his BABIP, but expecting it to stay as low as it is -- only five starters posted a BABIP lower than Zimmermann's current .256 last season -- is probably asking for disappointment.

Detroit Tigers (15-17) at Washington Nationals (20-13)

Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park
SB Nation blog: Federal Baseball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-1, 1.10 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (3-2, 4.60 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Zimmermann 41.0 15.2 4.9 3.07 1.0
Scherzer 43.0 25.6 8.3 4.77 0.3

So, Max Scherzer. Last time we saw the hard-throwing righthander, he put together a pair of dominant seasons in 2013 and 2014, winning 39 of the 65 games he started. Scherzer had a 3.02 ERA in 434 2/3 combined innings during those seasons, made two All-Star teams, and took home the 2013 American League Cy Young Award. He was really, really good, and it was a lot of fun to watch.

While some fans were rubbed the wrong way on how Scherzer's tenure with the Tigers ended, he eventually signed a seven year, $210 million contract with the Nationals, a figure some 66 percent higher than what the Tigers reportedly offered. Scherzer followed that up with arguably his best season to date in 2015. He limited opponents to a 2.79 ERA and 2.77 FIP in 228 2/3 innings. His four complete games and three shutouts led Major League Baseball, and he threw two no-hitters. His 30.7 percent strikeout rate and 8.12 strikeout-to-walk ratio were both career bests. That he finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting shows how many dominant starters there were in that league last season.

Things haven't gone so hot this season, though. Scherzer has a 4.60 ERA and 4.79 FIP in his first seven starts. Though xFIP and SIERA peg him nearly a full run better than that, he still hasn't pitched at the same elite level we've seen for the previous three-plus seasons. He has already allowed nine home runs, though four came in one game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. He allowed seven runs in that start, but has been touched up for three or more runs on three other occasions, including four runs in six innings against the lowly Atlanta Braves in April.

Hitter to fear: Daniel Murphy (.328/.339/.607 in 62 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Ben Revere (.250/.250/.250 in 12 plate appearances)

Daniel Murphy, so hot right now. Daniel Murphy. The Nationals' new second baseman leads baseball with a .398 batting average this season, which has come as a surprise to those whose only previous experience with Murphy involved Mets fans complaining about him. Murphy has faced Jordan Zimmermann more than any other hitter in Zimmermann's career, and boasts a stellar .328 batting average in 61 at-bats. Of his 20 hits, nine went for extra bases -- five doubles, and four home runs. Jayson Werth has also previously homered off his former teammate, but that was way back in 2010.

Outlook

While Scherzer's walk rate has risen a bit, concerns of his demise are likely overblown. His swinging strike rate is down from last season, but is still within the norms he established with the Tigers from 2012 to 2014. His fastball velocity hasn't changed, and he is still getting plenty of swings and misses with his slider. Opponents have had more success than usual against his fastball, which comes down to a bout of spotty command. We saw Cole Hamels rectify that same issue less than a week ago, and there's no reason to expect Scherzer won't do the same in short order.

Prediction

Scherzer dominates a righty-heavy Tigers lineup and the Nats win the series.

★★★

Editor's Note: New players win cash in their first daily fantasy league or get their entry fee refunded! Offered in SB Nation's partnership with FanDuel, your hub for daily fantasy baseball and more.