Baltimore Orioles (77-64) at Detroit Tigers (76-65)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Camden Chat
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, TBS, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.28 ERA)
If the Tigers had bad timing in facing a hot Ubaldo Jimenez on Saturday, they are catching a big break on Sunday. Orioles starter Chris Tillman has made just one start in the past month, a two-inning debacle on August 20 that was reminiscent of Jordan Zimmermann's collapses in his past couple outings. The comparison continued when Tillman was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Sunday's matchup against the Tigers will be Tillman's first action since hitting the DL; he did not make a rehab start.
Unfortunately, the Tigers have not been able to do anything when facing the 28-year-old righthander. Tillman is 5-0 in eight matchups against Detroit, and has limited the Tigers to a 2.56 ERA and .186 batting average against. Tillman's extreme fly ball tendencies have not hurt him against the Tigers' powerful lineup either. He has allowed just four home runs in 208 plate appearances, and just two at Comerica Park. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez have fared well in a small handful of plate appearances (with a home run apiece), but everyone else is hitting .250 or lower in at least four career plate appearances.
Prior to being placed on the DL, Tillman was enjoying arguably his best season to date. He has already eclipsed the 2-fWAR plateau, something he has only done one other time in his eight-year career. His 3.76 ERA and 4.26 FIP aren't career bests, but he has managed a 20 percent strikeout rate, the second-highest of his career. He has continued to improve his ground ball rate (a transition he started to make in 2015) by throwing his cutter more often than ever before. Between that pitch and an increased use of his two-seam fastball, Tillman's ground ball rate is above 40 percent for the third year in a row.
Hitter to fear: Michael Bourn (.371/.436/.429 in 39 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Pedro Alvarez (.143/.250/.214 in 16 plate appearances)
Luckily for the Tigers, Justin Verlander has been nearly as effective against the Orioles. He has allowed a 3.70 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 17 starts against Baltimore, and has lost just four of those meetings. The O's are hitting just .227/.290/.376 in 479 career plate appearances against Verlander, and that OPS goes down slightly when you look at Baltimore's current roster. New addition Michael Bourn has had the most success, collecting 13 hits in 35 at-bats, most of which came in a Cleveland Indians uniform.
The Tigers' mismanagement of Jordan Zimmermann's return from injury has put them in a difficult situation. They currently sit a game behind the Orioles in the AL Wild Card chase, and can ill afford to fall two games back with just 20 regular season games remaining. This isn't a "must-win" game, but losing a game against your closest competition with your ace on the mound doesn't bode well for the next few weeks. Fortunately, Verlander has been all sorts of dominant at home, allowing a 3.17 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 17 home starts this season. If he can keep the ball in the park -- 18 of his 26 home runs allowed have come at home -- the Tigers should be in good shape.
It takes extra innings but the Tigers win a low-scoring nailbiter.
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