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Tigers vs. Cardinals Preview: Matthew Boyd faces another tough test on Saturday

Boyd hasn’t had the easiest slate of late.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at New York Yankees Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The last few weeks haven’t been the best for Matthew Boyd. He hasn’t been bad, per se, but his 4.29 ERA since August 1 isn’t quite what we hoped for, especially after he looked so good for large stretches in the first half. He even started the second half hot, allowing just three runs in his first three starts after the All-Star break.

But there might be a reason for his recent struggles. Boyd has faced a surprisingly difficult slate of opponents in his recent outings, but outside of the New York Yankees, it takes a deeper dive to see just how tricky this has been. The Chicago White Sox have hit fairly well against lefties this year, especially recently. Boyd also had to pitch out in Anaheim against the Angels, a place where the Tigers never seem to fare well. That Angels club is also good at hitting the ball out of the park, something Boyd has struggled with throughout his career. And the Kansas City Royals? They are on a tear lately, with the seventh-best wRC+ in baseball over the past month (Boyd has also struggled in his career at Kauffman Stadium, allowing a 7.91 ERA).

Here’s the worst part: the Cardinals have all three of these traits. They are sixth in the major leagues this year (second in the NL) with 186 home runs. They have crushed lefties, with a team 106 wRC+ that ranks fourth in baseball. And they have the fourth-best offense in the game over the past month, with a 113 wRC+ to their name.

Boyd has been excellent at home, though, with a 2.56 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 12 starts at Comerica Park this season. Will home cooking be enough to deliver another win on Saturday?

St. Louis Cardinals (78-63) at Detroit Tigers (58-83)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Viva El Birdos
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jack Flaherty (8-6, 2.83 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (9-12, 4.24 ERA)

Game 142 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Flaherty 127.1 30.1 9.0 3.79 2.1
Boyd 153.0 21.7 7.3 4.05 2.5

Jack Flaherty isn’t the most talented young pitcher in the Cardinals’ organization — that moniker is still reserved for Alex Reyes, even if he’s on his second surgical rehab in as many years — but he has arguably been the most productive. The 22-year-old Flaherty looked a little raw when he made his major league debut in September 2017, but has taken big strides forward in his first full MLB season. He only trails two other Cardinals in innings pitched and is just behind Miles Mikolas in rWAR, and has been downright ace-like in the second half.

This doesn’t mean Flaherty has ace potential. His command is a little spotty — though his walk rates were better in the minors — and lefties gave him a little more trouble than right-handed hitters in the minors last year. He is a very good bet to be a No. 2 or 3 starter, though, in large part thanks to an incredible 30.1 percent strikeout rate. This is backed up by a 13.4 percent swinging strike rate, the 15th-highest in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings (i.e. starters).

As you might imagine with a whiff rate that high, Flaherty relies heavily on a fastball-slider combination. The four-seamer averages 94 miles per hour, while the slider is actually a bit slower than you might expect, sitting around 83 miles per hour. Still, it’s his best pitch, graded as such by both FanGraphs and our friends at Viva El Birdos.

The slider is Flaherty’s best pitch, and the one that is probably closest to a true plus, a 60 grade pitch. In fact, probably half the time I see him I would grade it a 60; the other half of the time he babies it in for strikes and tends to miss in the zone, rather than out. Still, it’s his best offering, and a legitimate out pitch when he throws it with conviction.

Key matchup: Tigers hitters vs. Flaherty’s pitch mix

Flaherty either throws a fastball or slider roughly 85 percent of the time. Sometimes the fastball is a four-seamer, while he has also mixed in a two-seamer (according to Brooks Baseball). The slider is hovering around 30 percent usage, and was almost north of 40 percent in his last start.

The problem? These are two pitches the Tigers have been among the worst teams in baseball against. According to FanGraphs’ pitch values, the Tigers are baseball’s second-worst team against four-seam fastballs this year, and the worst in the American League by a decent margin. While they “only” rank eighth-worst against sliders, they are much further below league average than they are against fastballs. Given their struggles against right-handed pitching this year — yup, they’re the AL’s worst team there too — this could be a rough matchup for them.

Prediction

Flaherty shuts down the Tigers lineup in a low-scoring Cardinals win.

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