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Game 159 Preview: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers

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The Tigers look for their first series win of the season over the Indians with Daniel Norris on the mound.

Don’t look now, but this Norris fellow might be pretty good. He has a 25.3 K-BB% over his last four starts, which is good enough to get the job done most times. The Tigers had won five of his starts in a row and were cruising to their sixth when Francisco Rodriguez decided to biff everything up in heroic fashion. One of those wins was a dominant five innings in a win over the Cleveland Indians (no, really!) on September 18. Let’s see how he responds to facing them once more.

If there is one knock on Norris, it’s that he does not pitch deep into games. Our very own Kyle Yost went into this a month ago, and the lefty has yet to finish off the seventh inning of one of his starts yet. Let’s consider that something for the youngster to work on today to save us from another patented Tigers’ bullpen heart attack.

Cleveland Indians (91-67) at Detroit Tigers (85-73)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Ryan Merritt (0-0, 1.50 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Merritt (AAA) 143.1 15.4 3.9 3.85
Norris 62.2 22.9 7.3 3.96 1

Without understanding Cleveland’s locked postseason status, it would be hard to understand how this junkballing lefty merritted his own start. He made his Cleveland debut on May 30 in the first of three relief appearances this year, while spending most of the season in AAA. His numbers with Columbus? Very middling. He posted a solid 3.70 ERA and 3.85 FIP, but the International League is pitcher-friendly. Of more importance was his 5.78 K/9, which tends not to translate well to the MLB. Just ask Kyle Ryan in 2015.

On the other hand, Cleveland does not particularly care what happens in this game, so they will just wait and see what Merritt has to offer them in spot start duty. The biggest intrigue with his outing may be: will Terry Francona pull a third straight pitcher after two innings? The Cleveland bullpen was spared from being completely emptied by last night’s rainout, so do not expect to see him in the game too long.

Hitter to fear: Brandon Guyer (160 wRC+ against lefties)
Hitter to fail: Rajai Davis (79 wRC+ against lefties)

Wait, Rajai Davis is that bad against lefties? I checked three different sources on that data to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, but apparently Rajai is a dude with reverse splits now. Meanwhile, Guyer has extreme platoon splits, which is something that yours truly hoped the Tigers would acquire to bolster their lineup down the stretch. Alas, like all great ideas that I have, the Tigers did not agree, and now Guyer is tearing it up in limited time in Cleveland.

Outlook:

Contrary to popular belief, the Tigers are no more susceptible to soft-tossing lefties than any other team. After all, the Kyle Lobsteins of the world just happen to win once in a while, don’t they? While that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m guaranteeing a mauling of Merritt, his mere presence should not inspire fear in the hearts of Detroit fans. Norris is pitching very well, and with the way the lineups match up for the start of the Atlanta series I’d venture to call this one a must win.

Prediction: