Rick Porcello

Weekend Preview: Red Sox vs. Tigers

Simply put, this season is lost. The Red Sox were looking pretty, pretty good coming into the series with the Yankees right before the All-Star break. Then they lost two of three to the Yanks and, coming out of the break, have played like absolute garbage. They were outscored 22-4 in four games against the Angels, which included them being shutout twice. They followed up that gem of a series by getting swept by the Astros, getting outscored 17-9 in the process. Put those two series together and the Sox are 0-7 since the All-Star break with a -26 run differential. The brutal results of late have the Red Sox 12 games under .500, and 12 games back of the Yankees in the American League East. Oh, and now they hold the worst record in the AL. They are not making the playoffs. They are only better than three other teams in the game: the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. Ben Cherington and the front office staff will be selling off whatever parts they can and letting the ‘kids’ play the rest of the way.

While Boston’s season is over, there are still plenty of games to play. This weekend, they’ll host another disappointing would-be contender, the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit Tigers – Record (4748) – Projected Record (8379)

The Tigers are 10.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals in the American League Central, but only four games back of the second Wild Card spot. BP has their playoff odds at a decent 28.3%, so they are certainly not out of it like the Red Sox are. Despite this, the major narrative surrounding the Tigers is that they need to be sellers at the deadline, getting as much in return as possible for players like David Price and Yoenis Cespedes so that they can begin rebuilding their bankrupt farm system. The most prudent action is probably selling and getting a start on the future, but the team has a fair chance at making the playoffs and pushing for another run with the team they have assembled is also understandable. They have a strong offense that can score quickly, but, like other teams I have reviewed this season, are often let down by their pitching. The starting rotation has put up the sixth worst ERA in the game (4.58, ninth worst FIP: 4.23). David Price has been really good, but after him it is a pile of junk. Alfredo ‘Big Pasta’ Simon, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Shane Greene, and a cavalcade of others have been worth 0.78 pWARP over 432.2 innings pitched. Not great. The bullpen has been just as bad (4.04 ERA, 4.15 FIP), having accumulated a -5.67 RE24. Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus has yet to figure out correct bullpen management and has come under fire in the media for his inability over the last week.


Game 1: Rick Porcello vs. Justin Verlander, Friday 7:10pm EDT

Rick Porcello has been a true Red Sox this season: a disappointment. This weekend he gets to show off his new style to his old mates. Porcello holds a 5.79 ERA, easily the worst of his career, and a 4.63 FIP, also easily the worst of his career. He is averaging a home run allowed per start, and 1.53 per nine innings pitched. The man who was supposed to attack the bottom of the strike zone and roll ground balls all over the place has struggled working up in the zone, chasing strikeouts. His ground ball rate is way down from career marks this season, and while his strikeout rate is up, the combination has simply not worked.

While Porcello has been bad and is owed a lot of money over the next four years, at least he is not owed Verlander money. Verlander is collecting a cool $28mm this year and each of the next four years. He has pitched only 34.0 innings this season and the results have been ugly: 6.26 ERA, 6.06 FIP. His average fastball velocity has declined a few miles per hour from his 2011 Cy Young, MVP season, and his effectiveness has gone down with it. He simply does not get batters to swing and miss as often as he used to, which has led to a reduced strikeout total and more balls in play. Verlander is not the same pitcher he was, he is more of an average starter than a front-of-the-rotation guy.

Game 2: Steven Wright vs. Alfredo Simon, Saturday 4:05pm EDT

The knuckleballer has been about what you would expect from a fifth starter still trying to command a difficult pitch. In five starts he has a 5.14 ERA. He has done a decent job of keeping opposing hitters from getting on base (.282 OBP against), but has given up too many extra base hits: .445 SLG, 11 of 26 hits have been for extra bases. Wright can be really good, as we saw in his brief stint with the team last September, but he is a knuckleballer and as such is very hard to project. I think the Red Sox should strongly consider a tandem situation with Wright and another starter – maybe even one who throws really hard (*cough* Joe Kelly) – in order to maximize both players. Regardless, Wright will need to perform more like he did in 2014 over the next few months if he is going to be considered at all for a rotation spot in the future.

What an interesting story of two halves for Simon. Through his first nine starts of the season he averaged 6.2 innings per start, held a 2.67 ERA (3.54 FIP), was striking out more than two batters for every one he walked and looked like a really nice offseason acquisition for the Tigers. In his next nine starts he has averaged 5.1 innings, posted a 6.99 ERA (4.62 FIP), produced a 40/21 K/BB, and really only looked good in his two starts against the lowly White Sox. The second nine starts resemble more the player Simon was expected to be than do the first nine. The Red Sox should be able to do some damage against the big fella.

Game 3: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Shane Greene, Sunday 8:08pm EDT

At one point this season Eduardo Rodriguez was a beautiful bright spot in the rotation, presenting a glimpse of a strong future. Rodriguez had quality starts in four of his first five starts, but then the Orioles knocked him around really hard and it was revealed that he was tipping his pitches. The results suggest that Rodriguez got whatever pitch tipping issues he was working through straightened out over his next three starts. But then the Angels absolutely crushed him this week, scoring seven runs in just 1.2 innings against Rodriguez, and the mention of pitch tipping has resurfaced. Now, it may have just been one bad outing against a team that has a bunch of really good hitters, but Angels batters were teeing off on first pitches like they knew what was coming. This weekend’s start against the Tigers presents another test for Rodriguez. If he can limit their strong offense, the Red Sox should be confident that he has worked through the pitch tipping problem and will be a positive contributor to the rotation going forward.

Greene came to the Tigers this offseason as part of the three-team trade with New York and Arizone that landed Didi Gregorious in the Bronx. After three brilliant outings to start the year (23.0 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 0 HR, 5 BB, 11 K), he has been a disaster. In his last 54.1 innings (12 starts) he has allowed 57 runs, only getting through the sixth inning twice. His strikeout rate is down 8% from last year, and like Porcello, he has had trouble with the long ball. Greene now has 29 major league starts behind him, with a roughly even split of good and bad. Overall, he is probably not as bad as he has looked this year in Detroit, but is also probably not as good as he was for New York last year.

Opposing Lineup:

The Tigers’ offense is top five in baseball (.270 TAv; 112 wRC+). It is considerably less potent without Miguel Cabrera looming in the middle, but there is still a lot of pop among this group. Victor Martinez has really turned things around in June and July after an awful April and May, J.D. Martinez is honest-to-goodness threat (.345 OBP, .566 SLG, 27 HR), and old friend, free-swinging Yoenis Cespedes can do damage when he makes contact (.488 SLG, 14 HR).






Ian Kinsler





Yoenis Cespedes





Victor Martinez





J.D. Martinez





Nick Castellanos





Marc Krauss





James McCann





Anthony Gose





Jose Iglesias




The lineup is mostly right-handed, so they fare well against left-handed pitching, but interestingly do not have a huge platoon split on the season. Jefry Marte is another option at first base for Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus. The 24-year-old Marte hit well at Triple-A Toledo this year (.271/.337/.497, 13 HR in 323 plate appearances) before getting called up to help fill-in for Miggy’s absence. The Tigers offense is not all about the dingers, though. Ex-Blue Jay outfielders Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis are both threats on the basepaths, having combined to steal 28 bases in 39 tries to date. While James ‘don’t call be Brian’ McCann has caught majority of the games this year (62), Alex Avila (.243 TAv) will probably get a start in at least one of the three games.


Given all the details of these two teams, I expect the games to be more high-scoring than low-scoring, and to include a couple of bullpen meltdowns for good measure. The outcomes of the games probably matter more to the Tigers than the Red Sox, not that that matters for projecting the winners of the games, but it is worth noting as this series will likely have implications for the decisions Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski makes at the trade deadline next week.

Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images

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