It may be a bit early to say this, but this Tigers team feels a lot like the 2012 club. That Tigers team was maddening -- it was a particularly frustrating season in the BYB comments, to say the least -- as they could never put together the type of winning streak needed to pull away from the rest of the AL Central. While they ultimately won the Central and made it to the World Series, that team was much more talented on paper than their actual results, an 88-74 record.
While things aren't exactly the same here in 2016, the early season ups and downs feel similar to what we went through as fans in 2012. However, instead of a leaky bullpen and unwatchable defense, the starting rotation has been this team's Achilles heel. Justin Verlander has been one of the main culprits, allowing a 6.49 ERA that is roughly three runs higher than what most Tigers fans expected coming into the season.
Like this 2016 Tigers team, Verlander has also had his ups and downs. His last start was one of the downs, an eight-hit, seven-run outing that snapped the Tigers' five-game winning streak. Now with a five-game losing streak on the ledger, Verlander has a chance to turn things around this afternoon against the Rangers and lefthander Martin Perez.
Texas Rangers (17-14) at Detroit Tigers (14-15)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Martin Perez (1-2, 3.60 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (2-3, 6.49 ERA)
Rangers lefthander is a bit like Nick Castellanos, in a way. Originally projected as one of the top prospects in baseball -- Perez peaked at No. 15 on Baseball Prospectus' 2010 rankings and sat mid-30s afterward -- he has yet to live up to that lofty billing. Unlike Castellanos, injuries seem to be Perez's biggest deterrent thus far. He had to rehab a fractured left elbow in 2013, then underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. He posted middling results in his 2015 return, allowing 88 hits and a 4.46 ERA in 78 2/3 innings.
However, Perez is still very young, having just turned 25 years old in April. His fastball velocity improved to pre-Tommy John levels throughout 2015, and has held steady in six starts this year. Typically sitting in the 93-94 mile-per-hour range, Perez has touched as high as 97 this year, up from the 94-95 mile per hour range he peaked at in early 2015. His slider and curveball still aren't quite as sharp as they were back in 2013 (in terms of pure spin and movement) but he is trending in the right direction.
While he has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, Perez has really struggled to punch out hitters this season. He has a meager 12.6 percent strikeout rate, and has just one outing with more than four punchouts. He has thrown his two-seam fastball more often than the four-seamer since having Tommy John surgery, which has resulted in a sharp spike in his ground ball rate. Opponents are pounding the ball into the dirt nearly 55 percent of the time this season, the third year in a row he has been above the 50 percent mark. His sinker, slider, and changeup -- the three pitches he throws most often to right-handed hitters -- are the ones that opponents hit on the ground most often.
Hitter to fear: Mitch Moreland (.280/.357/.440 in 28 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Elvis Andrus (.250/.289/.306 in 38 plate appearances)
Although it feels like the Rangers have Justin Verlander's number -- visions of a 2013 meltdown and Nelson Cruz's postseason heroics come to mind -- the current roster has not fared all that well against the ace of the Tigers' staff. Adrian Beltre has a .674 OPS in 56 plate appearances, with only one home run. Elvis Andrus has zero power to go with his .250 average in 36 at-bats. Mitch Moreland, who fits the profile of a Verlander killer, is 7-for-25 but has not homered. As a whole, this Rangers club is batting .239/.283/.335 against Verlander.
The key to this game, aside from Justin Verlander's fastball command, is how well the Tigers are able to lift the ball into the air against Martin Perez. The Rangers' lefthander is a ground ball monster, and with the Tigers' lack of speed, we could see a rally-killing double play or two if the Tigers aren't able to get under the ball at the plate. Perez isn't always that susceptible to the home run, but keeping the ball away from the Rangers' excellent infield defense is paramount to breaking this five-game skid.
Verlander bounces back and the Tigers get back in the win column.
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