Heading into the recent series against the Twins, the Tigers were kicking off a nine-game stretch against teams that are below .500, with 22 of their 38 remaining games against sub-.500 teams. They handled the first series well, scoring 25 runs on the Twins and leaving town with three wins.
The sweep moved them to 4.5 games behind the Indians in the AL Central and a mere two games out of the second wild card spot. With the Angels and the White Sox due up before a couple key matchups against wild card rivals, now is the time to make a push in the standings.
If the Tigers are going to climb back into a wild card spot, they need to dominate the cellar dwellers from here on out. Sweeping the Twins was a good first step, but they need to keep the pedal to the floor as the Angels come to town.
Los Angeles Angels (54-73) at Detroit Tigers (68-59)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Halo’s Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ricky Nolasco (4-11, 5.22 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (13-7, 3.38 ERA)
Ricky Nolasco has become quite a familiar face. This game will be his fourth start against the Tigers this season, and the ninth in the last three years. Nolasco, you may remember, played with the Twins during that time, right up until this July when they dealt him to Anaheim in a bizarre trade for Hector Santiago.
Nolasco began his career with with the Marlins, where he was an underrated part of some very mediocre teams. His 4.30 ERA from 2008 to 2013 obscured his solid performance, but a 3.62 FIP allowed him to rack up 19.8 fWAR before hitting free agency. He netted a four-year, $49 million contract after the 2013 season, which looked like a savvy move by the Twins at the time.
But instead of Nolasco’s ERA regressing towards his FIP, he caught whatever disease the Twins hand out with the pitchers’ uniforms. Since signing the contract, he has been worth about 1 WAR per season. Needless to say, he’s not an ace at this point.
But he isn’t helpless out there, either. Nolasco works a five-pitch mix that revolves around low-90’s fastballs and a mid-80’s slider that he’ll throw nearly half the time against righties. He’ll occasionally mix in a curveball to same-handed batters as well, but prefers to use it against lefties, to which he’ll also throw a splitter.
Meanwhile, Justin Verlander has found another gear and posted a 1.97 ERA over his last 10 starts, throwing his hat into the ring for the AL Cy Young (amongst a meager crowd). He doesn’t throw a splitter (yet) but at some point he’ll throw a slider which is actually a cutter that will make an Angels’ batter look foolish. It might even be Mike Trout. But probably not.
Hitter to fear: Albert Pujols (.364/.500/.636 in 28 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mike Trout (.083/.214/.333 in 14 plate appearances)
Other hitter to fear: Mike Trout (Mike/Flippin/Trout in every plate appearance)
Verlander’s career numbers against the Angels aren’t eye-popping — he has posted a 3.77 ERA in 15 starts — but half of those starts occurred on the road, and we all know that baseball gets strange on the west coast and shouldn’t even count. Within the confines of Comerica Park, Verlander has held the Angels to a 2.14 ERA in eight career starts, and a minuscule 1.12 ERA over the last eight years.
The Tigers have seen plenty of Nolasco over his three seasons with the Twins, and had some moderate success. They hit him to the tune of a .765 OPS in eight starts, but only handed him three losses while scoring just four runs per game. Justin Upton should be primed to continue his hot streak, as he is 9-for-22 off Nolasco with two walks and a home run. Victor Martinez and Cameron Maybin join Upton with a career OPS north of 1.000 against Nolasco.
The Tigers certainly have the advantage on paper, but don’t sleep on Nolasco. He has held opponents to three runs or fewer in six of his last nine starts, a stretch that includes his last start against the Tigers, and starts against the potent lineups of the Rangers, Cubs, and Red Sox. He may not be dominant on most nights (or ever), but he has the ability to limit damage and keep an offense at bay on any given night.
The offense doesn’t score as many as they should off Nolasco, but it doesn’t matter because Verlander.