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Game 81 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Tampa Bay Rays

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Justin Verlander takes on promising young lefthander Blake Snell as the Tigers go for their fifth consecutive win.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (42-38) at Tampa Bay Rays (33-46)

Time/Place: 4:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (7-6, 4.30 ERA) vs. LHP Blake Snell (1-2, 3.54 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 104.2 25.2 6.6 4.02 1.8
Snell 20.1 16.7 11.5 3.21 0.5

You could easily mistake Blake Snell for a pimply-faced teenager until he steps on the mound. The 23-year-old lefthander was drafted out of high school by the Rays in 2011, where he quickly progressed through the minor leagues. A monster 2015 season propelled him to the doorstep of the majors, where he posted a 1.83 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 44 1/3 innings for Triple-A Durham. This performance came with the requisite amount of prospect hype; after not appearing on any lists in years prior, Snell shot up to the teens on most prospect lists (including No. 12 overall at Baseball America).

The 2016 season has brought more of the same for Snell. He has allowed a 3.29 ERA and 2.54 FIP in 63 minor league innings, and has a modest 3.54 ERA in four starts at the major league level. However, his high strikeout rate has not followed him to the majors yet, with just 16 punch-outs in 20 1/3 innings. With 11 walks in that stretch, Snell has a meager 1.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio. While that belies his true talent level, Snell's 4.85 xFIP and 5.18 SIERA indicate that he's pitching a bit over his head at the moment.

He's no five ERA pitcher, though. Snell has the repertoire of a No. 1 starter, which made him the Rays' top prospect this season. Baseball Prospectus has more:

Snell always had impressive arm strength, but his projection has manifested itself in a 92-94 mph four-seam fastball that occasionally touches 96. The pitch is borderline plus-plus because of its movement, and he has more life on it than any left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. He complements that heater with a plus slider, a pitch that has hard downward tilt that he can now locate for strikes or bury at the feet of right-handed hitters. He has improving feel for a change that will flash plus because he sells it with his arm speed, and there’s enough late tumble for it to cause weak contact even when hitters guess right.

Ian Malinowski of DRaysBay delved further into Snell's arsenal after his major league debut, a solid five-inning performance against the Yankees. He has made three more starts since his most recent call-up, and gave up four runs to the Boston Red Sox in his last outing.

Hitter to fear: Desmond Jennings (.364/.364/1.091 in 11 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Oswaldo Arcia (.000/.167/.000 in 6 plate appearances)

Verlander has posted solid numbers against the Rays in his career, but those 14 starts don't mean much against a roster that has a combined 67 plate appearances against him. Evan Longoria is responsible for 29 of those, and has a .740 OPS, while Desmond Jennings has two home runs in 11 plate appearances. No one else has faced him more than six times.

Outlook

Justin Verlander's return to dominance hit a major speed bump in his last start, but he is in prime position to bounce back today. The Rays' offense has struggled in recent weeks, and ranked 11th in the AL with 115 runs scored in June. Verlander, like the Tigers, has played at a borderline elite level against non-Indians teams, and the Rays' swing-and-miss tendencies should play right into his hands.

Prediction

Verlander and the Tigers make it five wins in a row.

★★★

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