When Carlos Carrasco finished the 2014 season with a 1.30 ERA and 78 strikeouts in his final 10 starts, many questioned whether he could sustain that performance for a full season. Sure, no one — outside Clayton Kershaw, maybe — is going to hold opponents to an ERA that low for a full year, but Carrasco had a career 5.29 ERA heading into that season. There was a massive gap between what he had done previously and his 2014 stretch run. He was obviously going to fall somewhere in between, but how close would he skew to that recent dominance?
Pretty close, it appears. Carrasco has limited opponents to a 3.44 ERA and 3.23 FIP over his last 342 2⁄3 innings. The biggest concern Indians fans had over Carrasco’s performance heading into 2017 was simply how much of it they would see; Carrasco missed a month of action in 2016 following a hamstring injury in late April, then was shelved for the season after breaking his hand in a late September start. Neither injury is particularly ominous — he’s not having elbow soreness, for instance — but the Indians were a much different team without Carrasco and Danny Salazar in the 2016 postseason.
So far, things look just fine in 2017. Carrasco has limited opponents to three runs on eight hits in his first two starts, and he has only walked one batter. Can the Tigers find a way to solve him on Sunday?
Detroit Tigers (7-4) at Cleveland Indians (5-6)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let’s Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (1-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 2.13 ERA)
Game 12 Pitching Matchup
If there are any positives to take from this lopsided of a pitching matchup, one might be that Carrasco’s hot start is somewhat unsustainable. He has struck out 30.4 percent of the batters he has faced thus far, but his 11.6 percent swinging strike rate is actually the lowest of this now-four year run as a dominant starter. It’s still early — neither stat has had time to stabilize yet — but the two teams he has faced rank among the worst in the AL in swinging strike rate.
Unfortunately, so do the Tigers. Detroit has six hitters with a swinging strike rate above 13 percent thus far, and two more above 11 percent. Worse yet, six of those eight players are in the lineup on Sunday. They were able to avoid striking out too much against Carrasco last year, but also avoided doing anything else of consequence; they hit a meager .150/.203/.183 in 17 2⁄3 innings.
That said, the Tigers have handled Carrasco quite well in recent years. Even after his breakout in 2014, the Tigers scored 15 runs in five meetings against Carrasco prior to his dominance last year. For his career, the Tigers are hitting a robust .309/.360/.465 against him, though current Tigers have only managed a .652 OPS in 177 plate appearances.
Key matchup: Matt Boyd vs. really bad outings
As Nolan so helpfully pointed out this morning, Boyd is a much better pitcher than his ERA would indicate.
In 15 starts and one relief appearance last year, Boyd was flat-out dominant. He posted a Verlander-esque 2.63 ERA in those outings, and the Tigers went 10-5 in the games he started.
The problem? Boyd made 20 appearances last season, not 16. Those four outings resulted in 24 of the 49 earned runs he allowed all season long. This trend has continued into 2017 thus far. Boyd gave up five earned in just 2 1⁄3 innings in his first start, but took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his next outing.
When he is on, Boyd is just as productive as the other pitchers on the Tigers staff, save for maybe that Verlander guy. Because of Verlander, ironically, the Tigers can’t afford for the bad Boyd to show up on Sunday. So long as the good one is around, the Tigers should be within striking distance.
I pointed this out in Saturday’s recap, but Indians manager Terry Francona may have goofed when he asked Andrew Miller to work the eighth inning after semi-working out of a jam in the seventh. Miller threw another 13 pitches, putting him at 27 on the day. While this doesn’t guarantee that he is unavailable for Sunday’s game, one might imagine that the Tribe will be hesitant to use him less than 24 hours later this early in the season. This probably won’t matter, but there’s a slim chance that Miller’s potential absence on Sunday could prove fatal for the Indians in the later innings.
Of course, that assumes the Tigers can manage any offense against Carrasco.
Boyd has a strong outing but the Tigers drop the series finale.