It feels right to be getting excited for Justin Verlander starts again. We may never witness the same pitcher who dominated the American League a few seasons ago, but that does not make his current form any less impressive. With question marks covering so much of the Detroit Tigers’ rotation, the reemergence of Verlander has been absolutely essential for their playoff hopes.
While calling Verlander the best pitcher in the AL may be a slight overstatement, there is definitely an argument to be made. After returning from injury last season, he has been very solid, and recently he has been even better. Since May 8, Verlander has featured a 2.91 ERA and 3.23 FIP, striking out over 27 percent of opposing hitters. These are numbers we have not seen since his excellent 2012 campaign, when he was considered one of the very best pitchers in baseball.
Verlander’s next foe will be the Minnesota Twins, a team ranking among the bottom 10 in Major League Baseball in batting average, strikeouts, and wRC+. In his last outing against the Twins, Verlander gave up six hits and three runs over 7 1/3 innings while striking out 10, as the Tigers took a 6-3 win in the middle of May.
Can a lackluster Twins offense find more success this time against the Tigers’ ace?
Minnesota Twins (34-59) at Detroit Tigers (49-45)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Twinkie Town
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (3-8, 4.12 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (9-6, 3.91 ERA)
Ervin Santana is halfway through year two of his four-year, $54 million contract, and could potentially be on the move before this year’s trade deadline. Though his performance has not been awful, the Twins were undoubtedly hoping for something more when he was signed in the winter of 2014. Since joining Minnesota, Santana has posted a 4.06 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 4.08 FIP, coming after an 80-game PED suspension to start off his contract. These figures sit close to his career averages and put him essentially in the middle of all AL starters with over 200 innings pitched since 2015.
While his season totals have been nothing special, Santana has been very good since mid-June. Over his last five starts he has owned a 2.18 ERA and 2.73 FIP, including a two-hit shutout against the Oakland Athletics. During this stretch, opponents are hitting just .193 against Santana with one home run over 33 innings.
Santana is not a heavy-strikeout pitcher, averaging about 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) over the course of his career. This figure has dipped down to 6.7 K/9 this season, representing his lowest mark since 2006. Opponents are swinging on 46.7 percent of his pitches, which is the most aggressive hitters have been in some time against him. On those swings, opponents are making contact 81.1 percent of the time, which is the best they have done against him in four seasons. Teams who swing more often have found success against Santana, and the Tigers are a team that is not afraid to swing the bat.
Hitter to fear: Joe Mauer (.338/.440/.535 in 84 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Miguel Sano (.167/.286/.167 in 7 plate appearances)
Verlander has faced the Twins on 31 separate occasions in his career, totaling over 200 innings. He holds a 3.13 ERA against them with a 1.26 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings, although the lineup has obviously changed over the years. While hitters like Joe Mauer and Eduardo Nunez have put up decent results against him, Verlander has historically held Minnesota in check.
The Twins have showed a little life as of late, but this is a game that the Tigers need to win. Verlander has gone at least seven innings in 10 of his last 13 starts, and it would be great for him to remove some of the burden from the bullpen again. Santana has had some success against Detroit in his career, but he is certainly able to be knocked around. Taking wins in these situations is exactly what the Tigers need to do to get themselves back into the playoff chase.
Verlander looks good over seven strong innings as the Tigers cruise to victory.