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Tigers vs. Astros Preview: Oh great here comes Gerrit Cole again

Cole dominated the Tigers in their first meeting prior to the All-Star break.

MLB: Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being at a large talent disadvantage, the Detroit Tigers have kept things close so far in their series against the Houston Astros. Francisco Liriano went toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander for a while in the series opener, but the Tigers offense couldn’t get over the hump against their former ace. Then, Detroit nearly came back from an early hole, but dropped a winnable 5-4 contest on Tuesday.

Now, they get to face Gerrit Cole again. Yay.

Cole dominated the Tigers in their first meeting, striking out eight while allowing just one run on three hits. His four walks and general inefficiency — he lasted just 5 23 innings — were his only blemish in a 9-1 Astros win. This was one of Cole’s shortest outings of the season, amazingly, which tells you how the rest of his year has gone. He has a 2.86 ERA and 251 strikeouts through 182 13 innings, numbers that have him firmly in the Cy Young conversation as we move down the stretch.

Assuming Cole is up to his usual standards on Wednesday, he should help the Tigers’ draft stock come next June. The Tigers are currently in line for the No. 6 pick in next year’s MLB draft, but could move up a spot by day’s end with a loss. They are just three games away from the No. 3 pick, currently held by the Chicago White Sox.

Houston Astros (91-54) at Detroit Tigers (59-86)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Gerrit Cole (13-5, 2.86 ERA) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (0-3, 5.47 ERA)

Game 146 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Cole 182.1 34.6 8.1 2.70 5.7
Norris 24.2 29.6 10.2 5.19 0.0

There are only so many ways to dissect Cole’s numbers — they’re really good, y’all — so let’s talk about his Cy Young chances instead. He currently sits tied for third in the American League with 5.7 fWAR, and is sixth on Baseball Reference’s list. His 2.86 ERA is fifth in the league among qualified starters, and he’s fifth in innings pitched. His raw strikeout totals are gaudy, as only teammate Justin Verlander has more, and in two extra starts. Cole’s 34.6 percent strikeout rate is also second in the AL, but to Boston’s Chris Sale.

If I were to guess right now, I’d say the race is between those three and Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer. Sale probably holds the edge at the moment, in large part thanks to a 1.96 ERA, but he has only logged 147 innings and won’t hit the 200-inning barrier that Verlander and Cole will eclipse by season’s end. Bauer’s 2.22 ERA is also a half-run lower than Verlander and Cole, but he has a 20 inning advantage on Sale. However, if Sale ends up with more strikeouts than Bauer — he’s currently ahead by seven — he might finally take home his first Cy Young Award.

Key matchup: Daniel Norris vs. the home run ball

We bemoaned Jordan Zimmermann’s difficulties with keeping the ball in the park after Tuesday’s game, but Norris’ dinger issues are far more frustrating. The 25-year-old lefty has looked incredible since coming off the disabled list, with 14 strikeouts to just two walks in 9 13 innings. However, he has also allowed five runs, for a 4.82 ERA. Four of those have come via the home run ball, which has continued to plague Norris throughout his career. If he can figure out how to curb his homer issues, his advanced metrics (including a 3.84 xFIP) suggest he could be a solid mid-rotation starter.

Bonus matchup: Your eyeballs vs. lots and lots of baseball

There are 16 games scheduled on Wednesday, with start times ranging from 12:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT. There will likely be a postponement or two if If you have the ability to watch or listen to baseball during the work day, make sure to enjoy this feast of Opening Day-level proportions.

Prediction

Cole dominates the Tigers again and the Astros sweep.

Gameday reading