Well, that was no fun. The Detroit Tigers have looked like world beaters at times this year, but the Cleveland Indians have been their early season kryptonite, winning all six matchups between the two teams with a +26 run differential. It doesn't help that Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers' only starter with an ERA under 5.50, hasn't faced the Tribe yet this season.
Here's the thing, though; he could have. Zimmermann will start on Friday against the Rangers on an extra day's rest thanks to Monday's off day. That extra day can be helpful throughout the course of a 162-game season, but would it not have made more sense to start Zimmermann against Cleveland and push a starter -- likely Michael Fulmer, in this case -- back a couple days?
This all seems like hindsight after Fulmer gave up five runs on 10 hits in Thursday's loss, but it shouldn't be. Zimmermann, by far the Tigers' best starter this season, should be facing division opponents whenever possible. The Indians and Rangers are similar teams offensively, so there's no "easier matchup" excuse to fall back on either.
Rant aside, the Rangers have struggled to score runs on the road this season. They are 5-9 away from Globe Life Park, with just 44 runs scored in 14 games. If their road woes continue tonight -- they are hitting .235 with a .289 on-base percentage in those 14 games -- we might see Zimmermann pick up his sixth win of the year.
Texas Rangers (15-14) at Detroit Tigers (14-13)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Cole Hamels (3-0, 3.30 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-0, 0.55 ERA)
Standing in Zimmermann's way of a 6-0 record is Cole Hamels, who has shaken off his early struggles since arriving in the American League. Hamels finished the 2015 season with a flourish, winning each of his last four starts with a 2.89 ERA and 27 percent strikeout rate in 28 innings. He has continued that run in 2016, winning three of his first five starts while holding opponents to a 3.30 ERA and .252 batting average. His strikeout rate has dipped slightly, but he is inducing swinging strikes at the highest rate of his career.
Things aren't perfect, though. Hamels' normally sharp command has been anything but in 2016, with 15 walks in 30 innings. This is nothing new, as Hamels has consistently posted high walk rates in April relative to the other months of the season, but it often takes him a start or two in May -- he walked four against the Angels on May 1, for instance -- before he really finds his groove. As a result, opponents have gotten on base at a .365 clip against him this season.
While this particular matchup may not be the best for Hamels, he generally isn't bothered by the type of righty-heavy lineup that the Tigers will use in this game. He has near-identical platoon splits in his career, in large part thanks to a heavy dosage of his excellent changeup to right-handed batters. Righties are hitting .198 with a paltry .104 ISO on the changeup during the PitchFX era.
That said, Hamels has thrown his cutter and curveball more often this season at the expense of that change-piece. Lefties are seeing a heavier dosage of those two pitches than righties, but he has reduced his changeup usage against righties from nearly 30 percent throughout his career to just over 20 percent this season.
Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.615/.722/.923 in 18 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.143/.200/.357 in 15 plate appearances)
Yes, that line from Cabrera starts with his batting average. As a team, the Tigers have punished Hamels in the past, hitting .276/.345/.461 in three meetings. The current roster (which includes Justin Upton's .829 OPS against Hamels) has fared even better, batting .311/.372/.576 with seven home runs in 146 plate appearances. Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez are also hitting over .300 in limited sample sizes, while Mike Aviles is 3-for-5 with two home runs.
Meanwhile, Zimmermann has only faced one Rangers hitter in his career: Prince Fielder, who has a double and a walk in three plate appearances.
While the Tigers have the edge on paper, this has the potential to be a true pitchers duel. The Tigers have struggled against pitchers with good cutters and slow curveballs this season, the two pitches that Hamels is featuring more heavily in 2016. Meanwhile, the Rangers have struggled to score on the road, and aren't hitting for much power as a club. Zimmermann has been a force with his new approach against lefties, and should continue to roll tonight.
The bats stay quiet but Zimmermann delivers a much-needed win anyway.
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