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Tigers vs. Rangers Preview: Detroit faces off against Yu Darvish on Sunday Night Baseball

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Things have not gone well against the Rangers’ ace in the past.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Texas Rangers Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

When Matt Boyd surrendered five runs in just 2 13 innings in his first start of the season, some Tigers fans started to worry. The team’s fifth starter in principle, Boyd was supposed to represent a major upgrade over the likes of Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey, two replacement level pitchers who combined to make 48 starts last year.

Fortunately, Boyd calmed down. Over his next six starts, Boyd limited opponents to a 2.92 ERA and a .684 OPS against. His strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn’t very sexy, but he showed enough deception and guile to get by. His changeup was great, and he provided a boost where struggling starters Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris could not.

So, even though Boyd got lit up in his last start (a seven-run outing against the hot-hitting Baltimore Orioles), there is no need to worry. He has a propensity for really bad outings, and is more valuable than his high ERA would indicate.

Unfortunately, he has to face Yu Darvish on Sunday.

Texas Rangers (23-21) at Detroit Tigers (21-20)

Time/Place: 8:05 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Lone Star Ball
Media: ESPN, WatchESPN, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yu Darvish (4-2, 2.76 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (2-3, 5.18 ERA)

Game 42 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Darvish 58.2 26.3 9.9 3.68 1.0
Boyd 41.2 16.0 11.2 4.67 0.3

Is there a more under-the-radar ace in baseball than Yu Darvish? The 30-year-old righthander has been everything the Rangers hoped for when they paid a king’s ransom to bring him over from Japan, even after missing the 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery. Since his debut in 2012, only 12 pitchers have accumulated more rWAR than Darvish, with many throwing up to 400 more innings than him. Darvish didn’t miss a beat in his return from injury last year, holding opponents to a 3.41 ERA with a 31.7 percent strikeouts rate in 100 13 innings.

Because of this, Darvish was my preseason pick for this year’s American League Cy Young Award. While Chris Sale would be a runaway winner if the season ended today, Darvish has been the rock in a rotation otherwise muddled by injuries. He has seven quality starts under his belt already, one off the pace of the MLB leaders.

If there’s a hole to be found in Darvish’s game this year, it’s that his stuff hasn’t been quite as deceptive as we have seen in prior years. He currently has the highest walk rate of his brief major league career, and his swinging strike rate is down to 10.7 percent. These are all small complaints, though; Darvish already has four starts with eight strikeouts or more, something he did in 10 of 17 starts last season.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. the seemingly inevitable

Yu Darvish has made six starts in his career against the Tigers. Darvish has a 6-0 record in those starts with a 3.46 ERA. He has 40 strikeouts in 41 23 innings, and Tigers hitters have a .641 OPS against him. The current roster has fared slightly better — former teammate Ian Kinsler has a pair of doubles in six at-bats — but Darvish has otherwise been bulletproof against Detroit in his career. The Tigers have arguably the most statistically impressive offense in baseball this year, but have yet to translate that into the boatloads of runs Statcast believes they should be scoring. Given Darvish’s history of baffling hitters and limiting hard contact, I wouldn’t bet on that changing this evening.

Outlook

Prior to Friday’s game, we pointed out how much the Rangers have struggled against left-handed pitching this season. The Rangers managed five runs on seven hits against Daniel Norris, but still struck out eight times. They have a .617 OPS against left-handed pitching this year, the fourth-lowest in baseball. However, they have been better against left-handed starters, and probably won’t need much offense to collect a win with Darvish on the mound. Matt Boyd’s platoon splits are relatively pronounced, and Texas should field enough righties to give him problems.

Prediction

Darvish does Darvish things and the Rangers take the series.