The Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers used to have little in common. In recent years, however, the ties have grown quite strong, both as trade partners, and through the common stewardship of Dave Dombrowski. While the former Tigers president and general manager has already made his presence felt in big ways in Boston, the current Tigers roster still most bears his stamp.
As the teams meet for the first time in 2016, they are in similar position, looking up at a divisional leader they expected to beat. It’s tempting to draw comparisons, but the teams are currently in very different postures. The Tigers appear ready to take a pass on the trade deadline, hoping to turn around their moribund farm system. The Red Sox have a grip on a wild card spot, and have already leveraged a robust farm system for relief help and one of the better starting pitchers on the market.
The Tigers will send Justin Verlander to the mound to oppose the Sox newest acquisition, Drew Pomeranz. Verlander will simply try to sustain the dominance that has characterized most of his 2016 season. The Tigers ace is currently in spectacular form, holding a 1.63 ERA and 2.60 FIP across four July starts. A .232 wOBA allowed to hitters this month is an even better measure of his performance, as is his outstanding 28.8 percent strikeout rate in July. He'll look to collect his 10th win of the season.
Detroit Tigers (51-48) at Boston Red Sox (55-41)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park.
SB Nation Blog: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (9-6, 3.74 ERA) vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz (8-7, 2.83 ERA)
Drew Pomeranz has made Oakland Athletics executive vice president Billy Beane look a bit foolish this year. Traded to the San Diego Padres for middling position players during the offseason, Pomeranz has surprised by emerging as a dominant starting pitcher in 2016. The Padres received Anderson Espinoza, one of the better starting pitcher prospects in the game, from the Red Sox in a blockbuster trade. Dave Dombrowski paid a steep price, but the Red Sox rotation has been a weakness all season.
Pomeranz' first start for the Red Sox went terribly. He was shelled for five earned runs, including two home runs, in just three innings by the San Francisco Giants. That's probably not representative of what the Tigers can expect Monday night. Still, it's probably as good a time as any to take on Pomeranz, as he acclimates to new catchers and a new ballpark.
Pomeranz is not a particularly appealing matchup for the Tigers' offense, who have struggled with left-handers all season. Add to that a quality rising fastball-curveball combination that has vexed the Tigers against the likes of Rich Hill or Aaron Nola, and it's hard to love the Tigers' chances of a big night at the plate.
The final piece of Pomeranz' repertoire is a cutter that has really been the driving force behind his breakout season. He has generated well above average whiff rates on the mid-80s offering, and batting averages against the pitch have been below .200 all season long.
The Tigers hitters have almost no experience against Pomeranz, but imagine them facing Rich Hill with the addition of a nasty cutter, and you have the makings of a rough night for an offense that has struggled mightily in recent weeks. Justin Upton has faced Pomeranz five times, and posted a .971 OPS against him, but he'll see a much improved version Monday night.
Hitter to fear: David Ortiz (.379/.455/.724 in 29 at bats)
Hitter to fail: Dustin Pedroia (.056/.105/.056 in 18 at bats)
Surprisingly, the Red Sox offense isn't particularly familiar with Verlander. Certainly, he has owned Dustin Pedroia, while David Ortiz has done major damage despite striking out 30 percent of the time. Otherwise, the turnover in the Red Sox roster makes this a pretty fresh matchup for the Tigers' ace. Verlander has been on a roll all month, but Boston's offense will be perhaps the stiffest test he has faced all year.
The Red Sox lineup has the third best strikeout rate of any offense in the game. Hitters like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are disciplined line drive hitters with blossoming power. Matched up against one of the premiere strikeout artists in the game, something is going to have to give. If Verlander's fastball and cutter are sharp he should be able to handle the Red Sox offense, but the looming Green Monster in left and lack of foul territory make this a particularly tough park for a fly ball pitcher who records a lot of easy pop-up outs.
The Tigers offense hit the ball on the screws quite a bit against the White Sox over the weekend with little to show for it. The hitting environment in Boston should be to their liking, but overall Pomeranz is the type of pitcher the Tigers have struggled with this season. Pomeranz does have a tendency to give up some walks, but being too patient might allow him to establish his full arsenal early in the game. The Tigers are going to have to hunt first-pitch fastballs more successfully than they did in Chicago and make Pomeranz pay early. If he settles in and gets his four-pitch mix working, the offense may be in for another long night.
Verlander gets hung out to dry by the offense early, but the bats pull this one out in the late innings.