I can’t tell if I have been subconsciously avoiding this game preview, or if, after 130-odd games, I’m just out of things to say. The Detroit Tigers will play at Yankee Stadium on Friday evening. Their most expensive pitcher will be on the mound, but in a pitching matchup that is decidedly against them. Even with Zimmermann’s strong strikeout-to-walk ratio this year, the difference between him and Yankees starter Luis Severino is just as large as the difference in Thursday’s game.
I have been all about Zimmermann’s surprising peripherals all season long. They were a clear deviation from the mess that was most of 2016 and 2017, and indicated that he could be an above-average performer through the final three years of his $110 million contract.
What I didn’t expect was how up-and-down year three would be. Zimmermann has alternated good and bad starts over the past month, but has consistently eaten innings along the way; even after allowing 11 runs in two starts against the White Sox, Zimmermann still pitched 11 total innings, and has gone at least six frames in four of his last five starts. The strikeout and walk numbers have been strong as well, but opponents continue to barrel him up with regularity — he has already allowed 10 home runs since the All-Star break.
Given how Thursday’s game unfolded, that last stat seems ominous. Here’s hoping the Tigers offense feels just as spry on Friday.
Detroit Tigers (54-80) at New York Yankees (84-50)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation site: Pinstripe Alley
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (6-6, 4.38 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Severino (17-6, 3.27 ERA)
Game 135 Pitching Matchup
Prior to the All-Star break, Luis Severino looked like a legitimate Cy Young candidate. He had the win-loss record — he was 14-2 in 20 first half starts — and a 2.31 ERA with 144 strikeouts in 128 1⁄3 innings. He did unspeakable things to the Tigers at Comerica Park on June 4, striking out 10 in eight strong innings. He was fourth in the American League with 4.1 fWAR.
The second half has been another story. Severino has allowed a 6.63 ERA in seven starts, raising his season-long ERA by nearly a full run in the process. He has given up almost as many runs in those 36 2⁄3 innings (29) as he did in the entire first half (33). The Cy Young Award is no longer in play.
Yankees fans are worried, and for good reason. Given their large deficit in the AL East, the Yanks will likely be playing in the winner-take-all AL Wild Card Game. Severino melted down in that matchup last year, but would almost certainly be given the ball again this year against the Oakland Athletics. If he can’t get it together down the stretch, New York’s World Series hopes might be over before we even get to the Division Series.
Key matchup: Zimmermann vs. Yankee Stadium
As mentioned above, Zimmermann has had a bit of a home run problem in the second half. He has already coughed up 10 dingers since the All-Star break, and 13 of his 18 homers allowed this year have come since July 6. He has a 4.82 ERA during that span, and opponents have made hard contact nearly 40 percent of the time. That doesn’t bode well against a Yankees lineup that, while struggling a bit lately, is still one of the best in baseball. The Yankees lead all teams by a wide margin with 218 home runs this season, and have baseball’s best offense at home. Yankee Stadium’s cozy confines are also a obstacle. If Zimmermann shuts them down in this environment, it will be a surprise.
Severino dominates and the Yankees even the series.