One month ago, Jordan Zimmermann starts were seen by Tigers fans as a cause for celebration. While that may still be the case today, it is not for the same reason. Back then, the Tigers' starting rotation was a mess, a rusty ship battered by a storm out at sea, anchored only by Zimmermann's strong start to the season.
These days, the waters are much calmer. Zimmermann has been flanked by surges from Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer, with Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey holding their ground at the back end of the rotation. The Tigers' rotation has the second-best ERA in the American League over the past 30 days, and are sitting on a 3.09 ERA in the past two weeks.
The best part is that there has been no drop-off from Zimmermann. He only threw 93 pitches in his last start, his first since injuring his groin on May 22, but he was able to gut through 5 2/3 innings while allowing a pair of runs. His strikeout rate remains low, but he has limited the damage by upping his ground ball and pop-up rates, and restoring his home run rate back to his career norm after a minor blip in 2015.
Suppressing home runs could be the key today against a high-powered Blue Jays offense that has been scuffling recently. Can Zimmermann and the Tigers keep the Jays' bats quiet?
Toronto Blue Jays (31-29) at Detroit Tigers (30-28)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-6, 4.21 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (8-2, 2.58 ERA)
I imagine that most Blue Jays fans were not happy even when the trade was first announced, but their December 2012 deal for R.A. Dickey -- one which sent Noah Syndergaard and Travid d'Arnaud to the New York Mets -- looks as lopsided as ever now. Syndergaard looks like a perennial Cy Young candidate in the making, while Dickey has floundered to a 42-43 record and 3.97 ERA in four years with the Blue Jays.
Because knuckleballers can be notoriously inconsistent, Dickey's constant mediocrity in Toronto is somewhat impressive. His ERA has stayed between 3.71 and 4.21 in his four years north of the border, while his FIP has stayed within an even tighter band. His home run rate has stayed rather constant as well, though his strikeout-to-walk ratio has consistently dwindled since leaving New York. This season, Dickey is striking out just 1.86 batters for every walk, a far cry from the 4.26 K/BB he posted in his Cy Young season with the Mets.
Things have been a bit worse of late. While he held the Red Sox to an unearned run on just two hits in his last outing, he walked five, and has issued nine free passes in his last two starts. He allowed three home runs against the Tampa Bay Rays a couple weeks ago, but has been able to limit the damage with a fair amount of weak contact. In his last three starts, opponents are hitting just .154 with a .308 slugging average, but with a .173 BABIP. If that figure regresses and the command issues continue, it could be a long afternoon for the 41-year-old righty.
Hitter to fear: Josh Thole (.400/.429/.400 in 21 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Russell Martin (.143/.400/.286 in 10 plate appearances)
The Blue Jays haven't seen much of Zimmermann over the years, and it's evident in his pitcher-batter splits. Only three players have more than five career plate appearances against the Tigers' $110 million man; naturally, all spent a significant amount of time in the National League. Even R.A. Dickey and Gavin Floyd have more career plate appearances against Zimmermann (five apiece) than the likes of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, and Edwin Encarnacion.
Across the way, the Tigers have had mixed results against Dickey. Ian Kinsler is hitting a robust .421/.476/.895 in 21 plate appearances, while Victor Martinez has a .679 OPS in 19 at-bats. Even worse is Cameron Maybin, who has a .421 OPS in 19 plate appearances. Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton have combined for seven career home runs off Dickey.
On paper, this game should be a whitewash. Jordan Zimmermann has been very good this season, while R.A. Dickey has not. The Tigers are playing well as of late, and while the Blue Jays are too, they struggle to score runs away from Rogers Centre. They have allowed more runs than any other AL team after the sixth inning.
But in a world where Mike Pelfrey can beat Chris Sale -- yes, I'm going back to that -- weird stuff can happen. The Tigers haven't faced a knuckleballer this season and past results against Dickey have been mixed. Until this Tigers offense can prove that they can handle offspeed stuff, I'm still a bit skeptical. That doesn't mean I don't think they're going to win, though.
Zimmermann stays sharp and the Tigers sweep.
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