With the Detroit Tigers' playoff hopes hanging by a thread -- their playoff odds have slipped to under 25 percent as of Saturday morning, per FanGraphs -- they can ill afford to lose games started by their best pitchers. This is especially true in games against other playoff contenders, such as Friday's 10-2 drubbing against the Red Sox. Michael Fulmer wasn't going to be a demigod all season (though he is certainly trying), but the Tigers are running out of room for error.
That's where Daniel Norris comes in. The young lefthander is a promising talent who has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief time in Detroit, but injuries and spotty command have limited his overall production thus far. He has kept runs off the board in his two starts since being recalled in early August, holding opponents to three runs in 10 1/3 innings.
It... hasn't been pretty, though. Norris has allowed 13 hits and six walks in that time, and all that traffic on the basepaths is eventually going to come back to bite him. At his best, Norris may be able to get away with an 83.3 percent strand rate, but I'm not sure I trust him to maintain that over the next six weeks.
Oh, and he's facing the best offense in baseball on Saturday. Can Norris get the Tigers back in the win column?
Boston Red Sox (68-53) at Detroit Tigers (64-58)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Drew Pomeranz (9-9, 2.99 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-1, 3.47 ERA)
Drew Pomeranz has settled in nicely since his shaky debut with the Red Sox back on July 20. He has a 3.56 ERA in his last five starts, which includes a five-run outing against the Los Angeles Angels to close out July (those two starts were sandwiched around a quality start against the Tigers, naturally). In August, Pomeranz has helped the Sox beat a pair of playoff contenders, and has a 2.37 ERA in three starts. He has 17 strikeouts in his last 19 innings -- not quite the 28 percent strikeout rate he managed with the Padres -- and, outside of a six-walk outing, has limited the free passes as well.
Pomeranz's improvement over the past few starts seems to have dovetailed with an increase in his fastball and curveball usage, two pitches that helped him post dominant numbers in April and May. He started throwing his cutter more in June, but has since dropped off some. In August, Pomeranz has thrown either his four-seam fastball or his curveball 85 percent of the time.
The uptick in curveball usage would appear to be bad news for the Tigers, who have seemingly struggled against good curveballs all year long. However, according to FanGraphs' pitch values, the Tigers are the second-best team in baseball against curveballs on a per-100 pitch basis. Meanwhile, they have just been average against fastballs, while the Red Sox are tops in MLB on the same per-100 pitch basis. Pomeranz carved the Tigers up in July, though, striking out seven in six innings.
Hitter to fear: Mookie Betts (.433/.469/.933 in last 7 games)
Hitter to fail: Xander Bogaerts (.231/.259/.231 in last 6 games)
The Red Sox offense has been far and away the best in baseball for most of the season, but they are starting to come back to the pack a little bit. Since the All-Star break, the Sox have a 106 wRC+ as a team. While this is still the third-highest in Major League Baseball, it pales in comparison to their season-long 115 wRC+. Mookie Betts and the improbable story that is Sandy Leon have led the charge since the break, but Dustin Pedroia (129 wRC+) and Hanley Ramirez (121 wRC+) have been great as well.
The Tigers hope that their lengthy injury list gets a bit shorter soon, because the offense has taken a nosedive in recent weeks. They are batting just .249/.308/.393 as a team in August, good enough for the fourth-lowest wRC+ in baseball. As odd as it is to say, their pitching has kept them afloat, but they are still only 7-10 on the month. Norris facing the Red Sox offense doesn't exactly induce the warmest feelings, and Pomeranz seems ready to carve up the depleted Tigers lineup.
The Red Sox win their second in a row.
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