The battle for second place in the American League East Division is on and, unfortunately, the Traffic Guardians took round one against the Detroit Tigers on Friday night, 6-1, after Matt Manning struggled in yet another outing. The loss widened Cleveland’s lead to 2.5 games as the two teams pulled even in the win column, though the Tribe has five fewer losses.
The good news is that there are two games left in the series — both opportunities for the good guys to make up some ground on their heated next-state rivals. Saturday’s pitching matchup might not inspire a great deal of confidence on the Tigers’ side, but the opposing pitcher appears to be ripe for the pickings... if the bats can get things going. Here is a look at how the two hurlers for tonight’s game stack up.
Detroit Tigers (53-59) vs. Cleveland Indians (53-54)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation Site: Covering the Corner
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tyler Alexander (1-1, 4.77 ERA) vs. RHP Eli Morgan (1-3, 6.75 ERA)
Game 113 Pitching Matchup
Tyler Alexander has been a Swiss Army Knife for Tigers manager A.J. Hinch this season, though in more recent games he has taken on the role as a short-starter, leading off the pitching staff in his last four appearances. While two of his starts earlier in the season resembled more of an opener role, his more recent ones appear to be stretching him out into a more traditional capacity as evidenced by his increasing pitch count, which reached a season-high 67 throws in his most recent outing.
That appearance came against the Baltimore Orioles in which he threw four innings of two-run ball, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out a pair to help the Tigers split the four-game series. In the aggregate for his last four consecutive starts, the 27-year-old has thrown 15 innings to the tune of a 6.00 ERA, allowing 17 hits — three of them dingers — and four walks against nine strikeouts plus a hit batter. Yeah, that does not look great, does it?
Eli Morgan, whose name sounds like a wealthy late 19th-century industrialist, will be Alexander’s opening opponent opposite him on the mound for the Tribe. The eighth-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Gonzaga is still figuring things out in his rookie campaign as his traditional stats suggest, though he has shown some flashes of improvement of late. His most recent outing was his best, tossing six innings of two-run ball on five hits and a walk while striking out nine Toronto Blue Jays over a season-high 92 pitches in the winning effort.
The Guardian’s right-hander gets by on a standard four-pitch repertoire headlined by his 90 mph four-seam fastball that he uses a hair over half the time, followed by a 76 mph changeup that’s used 23 percent of the time, 85 mph slider at 22 percent and a 77 mph curveball that’s used only an occasional four percent of the time, according to Baseball Savant. While his strikeout rate is pretty nifty and ranks in the 64th percentile among fellow major leaguers, the rookie excels in his walk percentage, which ranks in the 98th percentile. Though his overall traditional numbers look pretty awful, his peripherals suggest that there is quite a bit of headroom for improvement.
Key Matchup: Tiger bats vs. the strikeout
Besides the point that the Tigers hitters have a tendency to struggle against Cleveland’s pitching, Morgan appears to be one of those guys that will give Detroit’s offense fits. While the Tigers are right in the middle at No. 15 in the majors when it comes to team batting average (.242) and walks (357), the Motor City Kitties are 29th in strikeouts (1,071), which is a bit disconcerting for a pitcher who excels at striking guys out, much less his remarkable walk suppression. One — if not both — of those trends need to be bucked if Detroit wants to win on Saturday.