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Tigers vs. Red Sox Preview: Oh look, it’s the hottest team in baseball

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The Red Sox have the most wins of any MLB team since their last series against the Tigers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

Well, this should be fun.

The Tigers and Red Sox were projected to sit at opposite ends of the standings all season long, but Detroit’s surprising start to the season (coupled with their exceedingly mediocre divisional rivals) led the fanbase to get a little slap-happy. Even when these two teams faced off in early June, the Tigers were just 3 12 games out of first place, albeit a few games under .500. The Red Sox, on the other hand, were... about where they are right now: in first place with more than twice as many wins as losses.

Boston’s fortunes haven’t changed much since then. They took two of three games from the Tigers, and have continued to put up W’s. They put together a 10-game win streak just before the All-Star break to put a bit of distance between themselves and the New York Yankees, and have 25 wins since last facing the Tigers, more than any other team in baseball. As our friends at Over the Monster pointed out this week, the Red Sox could finish the season 32-32 and still win 100 games.

To no surprise, the Red Sox are strong on both sides of the ball — as teams on a 112-win pace tend to be. Their pitching staff has been solid, if unspectacular over the last month, but is third in the American League on the year with a 3.59 ERA. Their offense has been a juggernaut all season long, and is on a blistering pace lately. Over the past 30 days, they have a 127 wRC+ as a team. Detroit’s best hitter, Nicholas Castellanos, has a 137 wRC+ on the year; the Red Sox have four players at that level or better. They have hit 134 home runs this year, or just 34 fewer than they had in all of 2017.

Sounds like a fun matchup for a struggling pitcher prone to giving up homers.

Boston Red Sox (68-30) at Detroit Tigers (41-57)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Over the Monster
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP David Price (10-6, 4.42 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (4-8, 4.76 ERA)

Game 99 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Price 108.0 24.2 7.6 4.38 1.1
Boyd 98.1 21.1 8.7 4.27 1.3

Opt-out clauses rarely go right for the teams offering them, and David Price looks like he will be the latest example. The 32-year-old lefthander signed a seven-year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox following a Cy Young caliber season in 2015, with an opt-out clause after year three. We’re currently in the middle of that third season, and Price is having one of his worst years to date; only his 98 ERA+ in 2009 (his rookie season) is worse than the 99 ERA+ he is sporting through 108 innings in 2018.

And unless you’re satisfied with “he done gave up a lot of dingers,” there’s no reason why Price hasn’t quite met expectations in Boston. He is striking out 24.2 percent of hitters this year, right around his career average, while walking a modest 7.6 percent of batters. His fastball velocity is down a bit, but he has been relying on his cutter more often in a Red Sox uniform.

Those dingers, though. Price’s cutter has actually been at fault for most of them; of the 18 homers he has allowed in 2018, seven of them have come on the cutter, a pitch opponents are slugging .526 against. He isn’t allowing more hard contact than usual this year, though that rate has been elevated ever since he arrived in Boston.

Key matchup: The Red Sox vs. lefties (no, really)

As mentioned, the Red Sox lineup has been among the very best in baseball for the entire season, and on another level for the past month-plus. However, they have been very average against left-handed pitching — even a tick below average, according to their 99 wRC+. Their right-handed hitters have been pretty good against southpaws, but lefties like Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi have struggled quite a bit. Matthew Boyd already shut them down once this year, holding them to just two runs in 6 13 innings.

Things are different now, though. For one, Mookie Betts is back. The 2018 American League MVP (yeah, it’s happening) missed the first series between these two teams, but has been back in action for just over a month now. The good news is that Betts hasn’t been quite as good since coming off the DL. The bad news is “not quite as good” still means a 1.063 OPS. The Sox have also added lefty masher Steve Pearce, who also has an OPS above 1.000 against lefties this year.

Prediction

Boston puts up double digits in an easy road win.

Gameday reading