Detroit Tigers (43-38) at Tampa Bay Rays (33-47)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Tropicana Field
SB Nation blog: DRaysBay
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Mike Pelfrey (2-7, 5.02 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Archer (4-11, 4.76 ERA)
The 2016 season has not been kind to Chris Archer, an All-Star and Cy Young candidate last season when he broke out with a 3.23 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 212 innings. He has a 4.76 ERA through 17 starts, and is currently on pace for a 20-loss season. Opponents have looked downright comfortable in the batter's box against him, hitting .258/.330/.451 in 435 plate appearances.
While Archer hasn't lost his strikeout touch, his command has been an issue. He has already walked 43 batters this season after issuing just 66 free passes all of last season. The jump in walk rate has pushed his WHIP up to 1.45, by far the highest of his career. He has walked at least three batters in six of his past 10 starts. His home run rate has also jumped, but largely due to a four-homer game against the Orioles back in April.
The drop-off is particularly baffling given Archer's age. At 27, he hasn't suffered any sort of age-related drop-off in velocity or pitch movement; his PitchFX numbers are nearly identical to what he posted in 2015. FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan took a stab at diagnosing Archer's issues back in April, and all he could come up with is a guess about his landing foot.
It’s very subtle, and very easy to miss, but it’s a difference of a few inches, plus a fraction of a second if Archer is now planting his foot sooner. Those little changes can have profound effects on pitch execution, given how small the zone is, and given how much smaller the target area is. Even a wilder version of Archer is hard to hit. That’s been made abundantly clear. But the hitters like anything that makes the job any easier. If Archer doesn’t hit his targets as often as he wants, he’s going to be worse. That’s the truth of it.
The Tigers handed Archer his worst start of the season back in May, and he has given up at least three runs in every start since then.
Hitter to fear: Evan Longoria (.500/.556/1.000 in 9 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Logan Morrison (.133/.235/.200 in 17 plate appearances)
With three wins "in the bank" already on this road trip, the Tigers only need two more wins on this road trip to be above .500 at the All-Star break. While this isn't the best way to look at things -- it would be nice if the Tigers could win the next two series outright -- their recent surge has come at the right time. However, if Mike Pelfrey continues allowing hits at the pace he has in his past two starts, the offense will need to carry the load once again.
The Tigers leave too many runners on base and lose a close game.
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