Well, this sure seems promising.
Following Detroit’s late-inning 4-3 win over the Angels on Saturday, the Tigers have a chance to clinch their first series win in 2009. They have already fared better out west than in recent years — this is the first season they won multiple games at Angels Stadium since 2010 — but a win would also seal a 5-4 record on their nine-game trip.
Better yet, the Tigers have Justin Verlander on the mound. His ERA still isn’t up to the standard he (re)set last year, but his last few outings have looked familiar. He has held his last three opponents to a .591 OPS and 2.25 ERA, and has 20 strikeouts in 20 innings. His command still isn’t quite there — he has walked 15 hitters in his last four starts -- but he has only allowed 19 hits since his career-worst start in Cleveland on April 15.
Facing Verlander will be former Minnesota Twins prospect Alex Meyer, who has walked 12 hitters in 13 innings pitched this season. Can the Tigers take advantage and finish their road trip with a W?
Detroit Tigers (18-17) at Los Angeles Angels (18-21)
Time/Place: 3:37 p.m., Angels Stadium
SB Nation blog: Halos Heaven
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (3-2, 4.25 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Meyer (1-1, 7.62 ERA)
Game 36 Pitching Matchup
Three years ago, Alex Meyer looked like a potential top of the rotation pitcher. He was a consensus top-50 prospect heading into the 2014 season after a dominant year at Double-A New Britain in the Twins organization. He then held opponents to a 3.52 ERA with 153 strikeouts in 130 1⁄3 innings at Triple-A as a 24-year-old. However, the Twins inexplicably only gave him two appearances at the major league level in 2015 — a year they were actually in playoff contention, no less.
Thus began somewhat of a downward spiral for Meyer. He struggled with his command at Triple-A in 2015, but still struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. He battled shoulder injuries in 2016, limiting him to 21 innings in the Twins organization before he was traded to Los Angeles. He continued to battle his command after arriving out west, but struck out 24 batters in 21 2⁄3 innings with the Angels.
So far this season, nothing has changed. Between Triple-A Salt Lake and the majors, he has 38 strikeouts in 32 innings. However, he also has 19 walks in that span, including 12 in three major league starts. He is coming off his best outing of the season, but still walked five batters in 5 1⁄3 frames.
Key matchup: Alex Meyer vs. efficiency
Because of his command issues, Meyer has struggled to work deep into games. His 5 1⁄3 inning performance on May 9 is his longest outing of the season, and it took him 93 pitches to get there. He threw 90 pitches in his outing before that, a four-inning outing against the Seattle Mariners. Given how patient the Tigers offense is — they are one of seven MLB teams with a walk rate above 10 percent — Meyer’s efficiency issues might not work themselves out on Sunday.
We have seen the Tigers lay eggs to finish a west coast trip before, but they are entering Sunday’s game with a huge pitching mismatch they should be able to exploit. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 57 percent chance to win, a big advantage in a tough road venue. Verlander’s high strikeout and fly ball rates should play well at Angels Stadium, and the Tigers offense has shown enough patience to punish pitchers with command issues this season.
Verlander works seven strong innings and seals a series win.