Series Preview: Detroit Tigers (28-32) at Chicago Cubs (20-40)

The Tigers were the easy favorite to dominate the mediocre AL Central. They added Prince Fielder to a team that won the division by fifteen games in 2011, forming a core of starts that also includes Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Justin Verlander. Fielder has mashed since coming to the team, but not surprisingly the overall lineup has regressed (most notably Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta), though the offense is still in the upper third of the American League. Their pitching is even better than last year's (2nd in the AL), so what's the difference? The big concern when the Tigers signed Fielder was that it would move Miguel Cabrera over to 3b, and the Tigers went from an average defensive team to one of the worst in baseball, according to UZR (note: not so much with DRS, which agrees that the Tigers D is not good but has the Rockies at a whopping -52 runs below average. Hooray defensive metrics!).

The White Sox (33-27) and Indigenous Peoples (32-27) aren't exactly blowing the doors off the barn themselves. Detroit has dug a bit of a hole for itself (5 games back!!1!) and now only has a ~25% chance of making the playoffs according to BPro. They're still the best team in the division but the margin doesn't look nearly as close as everyone thought three months ago.

Team Overviews

Respective league rankings in parens

  Tigers Cubs
wOBA .324 (5th) .300 (14th)
BSR -2.6 (13th) 3.4 (3rd)
UZR -24.2 (14th) 3.8 (7th)
DRS -18 (13th) 0 (5th)
SIP FIP 3.97 (2nd) 4.06 (11th)
RP FIP 3.63 (7th) 4.68 (16th)

Pitching matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP, and ZiPS FIP in parens

Tuesday: Max Scherzer, RHP (5.88, 4.44, 3.42, 4.01) vs Paul Maholm, LHP, (5.10, 5.10, 4.53, 4.21) 7:05 PM CT

Max Scherzer doing Max Scherzer things this year, and then some. He has a 11.19 K/9 and has given up 1.82 HR/9. He's a flyball pitcher so you expect more HRs but he's had problems keeping it in the yard anyway (11.7% career HR/FB). When he broke out with the DBacks in 08-09 the big question was durability. He came to the Tigers in the three team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and I remember hearing that the DBacks wanted to sell high on him because they didn't think he could stick as a starter. Scherzer proved them wrong by throwing 31 and 33 starts in his first two years with the Tigers. He is a guy who can rack up big pitch counts early in games, hence his 195 IP total in those 33 starts, but he's been a pretty good pickup for Detroit. Pretty much everyone got something good out of the deal – Granderson has been nails with the Yankees, Austin Jackson has broken out with the Tigers, Ian Kennedy went from Yankees castoff to frontline starter, and even perenially overachieving Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter for the Dbacks before participating in the theft of Daniel Hudson from the White Sox. It's the rare win-win-win trade. If anything Scherzer was the main disappointment, "only" posting 7.2 WAR in the two and a half seasons since.

So much for Paul Maholm's regression to the mean. He's had five crappy starts since his four-start run of worm killing baseball. In that stretch he's only given up less than four runs once, in a two run, five walk outing in five innings against his former team's anemic offense. I'll take the over on four runs tonight.

Wednesday: Rick Porcello, RHP (5.03, 4.40, 4.17, 4.24) vs Matt Garza, RHP (3.99, 4.07, 3.53, 3.67), 7:05 PM CT

I'm sensing a bit of a theme here among Tigers pitchers not named Justin with regards to ERA-FIP splits. Porcello is a ground ball machine playing in front of one of the worst infield defenses in baseball. He's a ground ball guy so more balls are going to get through, but a 1.54 WHIP with a 2.38 BB/9 has a lot to do with who is chasing after those balls in play.

Garza put together a pair of good starts to wash away his awful 5 HR stretch against the Pirates and Astros. Unlike Porcello teams aren't getting many hits off of him despite posting a career best GB%. The Cubs defense isn't as good as that .249 BABIP would indicate, however.

Thursday: Justin Verlander, RHP (2.69, 2.65, 3.29, 2.91) vs Travis Wood, LHP (4.71, 6.22, 4.24, 4.21), 1:20 PM CT

The Cubs players might as well have their cars warmed up in the parking lot before this game even starts. Verlander leads all pitchers in MLB by WAR. Four pitchers (Greine, Sale, Gonzalez, Strasburg) have lower FIPs than Verlander, but he's thrown 20 more innings than all of them. Verlander threw 270 innings last year (including the playoffs) and is showing no signs of slowing down. Hoss Radbourn would still call him a nancy boy.

Wood is walking a ton of guys and giving up a lot of HR. I'm not as worried about the HR, since there's plenty of small sample size there (4 HR on a day where the wind is howling out is somewhat forgivable. Somewhat). But he's walking guys all over the place. And it's not like he had one or two bad outings for walks either, he's consistently walked two or three batters in all of his relatively short starts.

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