You want the unstoppable force against the immovable object? You will get it on Monday, as the best starting pitcher in the major leagues this season (per fWAR) takes on the best offense in baseball (per everything). Matthew Boyd has his work cut out for him in the Houston Astros, who have won five straight games, and are coming off a 6-1 homestand in which they scored 50 runs in seven games. Add in a pair of double-digit outputs against the Los Angeles immediately prior to this home stretch, and the Astros are scoring over seven runs per game in the month of May.
This is a different Matthew Boyd, though. We discussed his early Cy Young candidacy prior to his last start, and he shrugged off a leadoff homer to hold the Angels to just one run on three hits in six innings. This marked his seventh quality start in a row, the longest such streak of his career. With the six punchouts he logged, Boyd now has 63 strikeouts in just 50 1⁄3 innings this year.
That strikeout rate will be put to the test on Monday. Not only are the Astros scalding hot, with home runs in 10 consecutive games — and 27 in all this month, nearly as many as the Tigers have this season — they have the second-lowest strikeout rate in baseball, at just 19.0 percent. They have been better than usual against left-handed pitching as well, with an MLB-best 140 wRC+ against southpaws in 2019.
Boyd could be up to the task against this right-handed heavy lineup, though. He has limited righties to just a .585 OPS this season, with 50 strikeouts to nine walks in 162 plate appearances. He has also been lights out at home, with a scant 2.42 ERA and 0.85 WHIP allowed at Comerica Park in 2019.
Who blinks first in the series opener?
Houston Astros (26-15) at Detroit Tigers (18-20)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: The Crawfish Boxes
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Brad Peacock (3-2, 4.30 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (4-2, 2.86 ERA)
Game 39 Pitching Matchup
For the past two years, Brad Peacock has managed a sky high strikeout rate, one that seemingly came out of nowhere in his age-29 season. While the 3.00 ERA in 132 innings while fanning 11 batters per nine innings was rather unexpected, the secret lies in increased reliance on his slider, which generated a healthy 16 percent whiff rate even prior to his breakout. Since the start of 2017, opponents have whiffed on that slider 20 percent of the time, making it an effective weapon against both righties and lefties. Peacock has used it with abandon, throwing it over 36 percent of the time over the past three years.
Now that Peacock has established himself as a slider-wielding strikeout demon, it leaves us wondering what has happened in 2019. His whiff rate has fallen south of 10 percent for the first time since 2016, and he is fanning “just” 24.7 percent of hitters through 37 2⁄3 innings. His role hasn’t changed much — he was mostly a starter in 2017, mostly a reliever in 2018, and a bit of both this year — and he hasn’t seen any significant change in the velocity or shape of the slider.
Somehow, opponents have keyed in a bit more on what is coming. They know when to swing — his zone swing percentage has jumped to 69.4 percent, the highest of his career — and when to lay off (a 25.8 percent O-swing percentage). And no matter where the pitch is, they are making more contact; his 79 percent contact rate allowed is its highest since 2016.
Unfortunately, this might not matter much against the Tigers. They have baseball’s fifth-lowest value per 100 pitches against sliders in 2019 (per FanGraphs) and a paltry 77 wRC+ against right-handed pitching this year, third-lowest in the American League.
Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. eating innings
Boyd has been wonderful at pitching deep into games this season, but the stakes are even higher for this game. Not only do the Astros have the best offense in baseball by a wide margin — their 133 wRC+ as a team is better than all but 29 everyday players on other clubs — but the Tigers could use as much length as possible with a pair of unproven pitchers scheduled to pitch on Tuesday and Wednesday. So long as Boyd continues his streak of seven consecutive starts with at least six innings pitched, the Tigers should be fine.
But if he wants to go all nine and blank Houston’s high-powered lineup? That’s fine too.
Boyd navigates his eighth consecutive quality start but gets no help from his offense in a loss.