Series Preview – Seattle Mariners vs. Detroit Tigers
After three tough losses over the weekend to a Texas Rangers team that just cannot be slowed down, the Tigers look to shake it off and welcome the Seattle Mariners to town for a weekday series. The Rangers proved why they are the best team in the American League right now by proving that when your team is well-rounded in every category, you’re going to keep winning and winning. They put up ten runs in each of the first two games, which included bouncing Rick Porcello after only one inning of work in Game 2. Justin Verlander proved to be the stopper in Game 3, but a pitching duel (and a little 11th Inning help from an umpire already in mid-season form) gave the Rangers a win in Game 4. They can hit, they can pitch, and they have the team mentality from top to bottom. This Rangers team cannot be stopped right now.
With any luck, the Mariners should be a bit less of a challenge for the Tigers. After seeing so many great pitchers over the last two weeks (including Beckett, Lester, Buccholz, Moore, Shields, Niemann, Peavy, Floyd, Sale, Chen, Darvish, Harrison (surprisingly), Feliz, and Lewis (also surprisingly)), an easier series may be exactly what’s needed. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s still not the case. Even if they haven’t been able to field the offense to put up runs over the last few years, the Mariners have consistently had a strong starting rotation. Take Doug Fister, for example (come back soon Doug, PLEASE!). He may have had a 3-12 record in Seattle before he was acquired by Detroit at the trade deadline, but his ERA was miniscule, and with the little run support he finally in Detroit, he was able to go 8-1 for the remainder of the season. Fister isn’t an anomaly out there, either. There was Jarrod Washburn a few years ago (who turned out to be a bust when traded). There’s Felix Hernandez (who won the Cy Young award two years ago and has consistently been a top tier pitcher). So, despite losing a lot of games, the Mariners always seem to put together a rotation that at the very least gives their team a fighting chance at winning games. So let’s take a look at the pitching matchups this week, and see how easy (or not) it’ll be for the Mariners to take home some wins.
Tuesday – 4/24/12
Jason Vargas vs. Max Scherzer
First, for the home team, there’s Max Scherzer. Scherzer has gotten considerably more consistent in his last two starts, bringing down the number of earned runs allowed to three each game, and pitching well into the sixth and seventh innings. Those are quality numbers, especially from a Number 2/3 pitcher in a rotation. If Max can continue to have more outings like that (or even better), then he too will turn a corner this season and make the Tigers’ rotation even better than it has been. But, as was the case in his first start, Scherzer always has that hidden potential to just self-destruct in an instant, putting a game well out of reach for the offense. Whether or not that potential is exposed in any particular game is always a crap shoot. I personally sit on the edge of my seat during the entirety of his pitching performances, biting my nails over if/when he’ll explode. Luckily, Scherzer is a lot better about that at home. He pitches to a lot of contact, and has somewhat of a reputation as a fly ball pitcher. There’s no better park in Major League Baseball than Comerica Park for inducing flyouts.
To add to the good news for Max, he is 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 27 innings against Seattle. Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki have the most at-bats against him, and both of those men are hitting .167 against Max. And this is the same Ichiro Suzuki who has put up 200+ hits in ten of the last eleven seasons in the majors. If ever there was a thing called domination, this would be it.
Max will have to bring his “A” game if he wants a win here, because Jason Vargas has been lights out for the Mariners so far this year. In three games, he’s has an 2.84 ERA, which includes two starts against Oakland, one against Texas, and one against Cleveland. While Texas may be the only team that means anything among those three, Vargas still only allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings in that game. This is the same Texas team that just put up ten runs in back-to-back games against the Tigers. Four earned runs against them should be a badge of honor. His ERA is a little elevated against the Tigers (5.87), but he’s only pitched 15 innings, or three games. Any number of possibilities could have resulted in that ERA, including just one bad start and two really good ones. If he pitches the way he has been this season, those numbers could drop considerably, and Detroit could be in for some real trouble. Again.
Wednesday – 4/25/12
Felix Hernandez vs. Adam Wilk
If there’s one pitcher who got the worst possible draw in this series, it’s Adam Wilk. Wilk has been okay in his first two starts this year, but has taken losses in both. The Tigers cannot get him enough run support to get a win. He was the starter in slaughter that was Thursday night against the Rangers, which wasn’t exactly the sort of bounce-back start a pitcher is looking for after being taken out of his first start by an errant foul ball from his own teammate. Wilk will be looking to build on his season, and, with a healthy dose of luck, get his first win. He’s only pitched one inning lifetime against the Mariners, and in it he gave up a hit and a two-run home run, making his lifetime ERA against them 18.00. Obviously, that number will come down as he pitches more innings here on Wednesday. But he’ll still need a lot of help to out-pitch and overcome the opponent on the other side.
His opponent: King Felix. Felix Hernandez has been a member of that upper tier of pitchers in baseball over the last few years. His name is always on the same list as C.C. Sabathia, Jered Weaver, and Justin Verlander in the American League. On top of that, Detroit is one team where he always seems to take home a win. In 71 innings, he’s 8-2 with a 2.79 ERA. No one but Miguel Cabrera and (surprisingly) Gerald Laird have had any success against Felix, and with spacious Comerica Park as the backdrop to this matchup, even those two bats may be kept to a minimum in terms of damage.
Thursday – 4/26/12
Hector Nosei vs. Rick Porcello
Rick had a rough go of things in his last start. He gave up seven earned runs in the first inning against the Rangers, and never recorded an out in the second before being pulled. Which was startling, because he had been phenomenal in his first two starts. Hopefully, though, Rick can put it behind him, and find his control and command again for this game. He’s still very likely turning a corner in terms of the pitcher he’ll be, but he needs to mentally overcome the beating he took the last time out. This could be just the start to get that taste out of his mouth, though. With a 3-1 lifetime record against the Mariners, Porcello has had moderate success against them. If he pitches his game, gets his ground balls, he should be able to get back on track towards that stellar season.
Opposite Porcello is Nosei. There’s no data for Nosei against the Tigers, since he’s never pitched against them. But so far this year Nosei looks to be the weak link in the Mariners rotation. He was rocked for seven earned runs in three innings during his first start, bounced back for eight shutout innings in his second start, and then gave up six in only 1 1/3 innings during his third start. Nosei has been up and down so far this season. With any luck, this fourth start is not one of those “ups.” Then again, the Tigers have never seen him pitch live before, which, unfortunately, could confuse some of the hitters and lead to some lop-sided numbers in Nosei’s favor by the end of the day.
Game 1: Tigers
Game 2: Mariners
Game 3: Tigers
Final: Tigers win series 2-1
Yes, I have been very, very wrong with these series predictions thus far. Posting a 5-5 record for game predictions (and a 0-3 record in series outcomes) doesn’t exactly give me a lot of credibility for future predictions. But this seems like a pretty safe series to make these sorts of predictions. No bias intended, but I think the Tigers can push their way past Vargas and Nosei behind Scherzer and Porcello. I think King Felix will continue to be king of the Tigers in Game 2, much to the chagrin of Adam Wilk.
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