The hot button topic surrounding the Detroit Tigers for most of the 2016 season has been their starting pitching. We hoped for the best and planned for the worst as they sent two unproven youngsters and a struggling Mike Pelfrey against a dangerous Oakland Athletics team. While just about everything else crumbled around them -- the offense only scored nine runs, the bullpen imploded on Saturday, and the defense did Mike Pelfrey no favors -- the starting pitching held up well.
On Monday, the Tigers get a reprieve from their rotation concerns. Justin Verlander has been dominant in his last four starts, holding opponents to a 1.19 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 30 1/3 innings. He has 37 strikeouts to nine walks during this stretch, and has allowed just one home run. The Tigers are inexplicably just 2-2 in these four games, but have won the last two. Verlander has lowered his ERA by nearly two and a half runs.
Now, it's possible that this hot streak could be partially fueled by the subpar offenses Verlander has faced. The Rangers, Phillies, and Twins are all at or below a 92 wRC+ on the season, with only the Orioles sitting above league average. The Angels have a 99 wRC+ as a team, and sit very close to the Orioles in batting average and on-base percentage.
Can Verlander keep pitching this well? He gets a shot at moving above .500 tonight.
Detroit Tigers (24-25) at Los Angeles Angels (22-28)
Time/Place: 9:05 p.m., Angels Stadium of Anaheim
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (4-4, 4.02 ERA) vs. RHP Jhoulys Chacin (1-3, 5.11 ERA)
Three years ago, Jhoulys Chacin was an up-and-coming pitcher in the Colorado Rockies' organization who seemed to have Coors Field mastered. He posted four consecutive seasons with an ERA+ over 100 from 2010 to 2013, and was worth an impressive 8.9 fWAR during that stretch. Chacin's best season came in 2013 when he went 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA and 2.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 197 1/3 innings, great numbers for any ballpark. At just 25 years old, he seemed like a solid rotation contributor behind potential future aces Jon Gray and Eddie Butler.
Instead, Chacin flopped. He started having shoulder trouble during spring training and only pitched 63 1/3 innings, allowing a 5.40 ERA and 4.82 FIP. Chacin didn't pitch after June 28, a death knell to his pending free agency. He ultimately signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians, but never made it out of Triple-A. The Arizona Diamondbacks picked him up, and he acquitted himself well in 26 2/3 innings down the stretch, allowing a 3.38 ERA. He signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves last winter, and made five starts before the pitching-starved Angels came calling.
So far in 2016, Chacin hasn't been able to rekindle the same magic he had in Colorado. His velocity hasn't fully returned from the shoulder troubles he had in 2014, though at 28, it will start to decline soon. His offspeed stuff has been relatively sharp, save for the changeup, which has been hit very hard. Chacin isn't getting as much separation between his fastball and changeup this year, resulting in a .385 batting average and .846 slugging average (in a 13 plate appearance sample).
Hitter to fear: Albert Pujols (.421/.560/.737 in 25 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Cliff Pennington (.111/.200/.111 in 20 plate appearances)
Albert Pujols has made many an opposing pitcher look bad throughout his Hall of Fame career. In that context, his impressive numbers against Justin Verlander aren't all that impressive. Of all the pitchers Pujols has faced 20 times or more, his 1.297 OPS against Verlander is only his 22nd-highest figure. No player has hit Verlander harder in a 20 PA sample than Pujols. Meanwhile, Mike Trout is only 1-for-9 against Verlander, but the lone hit was a homer.
Of note: Justin Upton is 2-for-20 with 11 strikeouts against Chacin.
The Tigers have not fared well in Anaheim over the years, but this might be the weakest Angels squad they have faced in recent memory. Between reclamation projects like Jhoulys Chacin and a thin lineup outside of Pujols, Trout, and Kole Calhoun, the Angels are eminently beatable. However, the Tigers have struggled with pitchers like Chacin this season, and still haven't shown much punch when they're not facing Minnesota Twins pitching. Chacin has fallen back to earth somewhat since leaving Atlanta, but he has kept the Angels within striking distance in each of his three starts so far. It will be particularly important for the Tigers to get Chacin's pitch count up early; the Angels are coming off a 13-inning game against Houston on Sunday.
Verlander receives just enough offense to get the Tigers back in the win column.
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