It would almost be nice if Ubaldo would be consistent, even if it meant consistently bad. Not that I’m hoping he fails, but the guy is just an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in seaweed. Some kind of magical pitching sushi, I guess. One game after being shelled for seven runs in four-plus innings, he was very good against the Mariners for six innings of three run ball in his last outing. Considering the weapons he packs—that filthy curve, two fastballs in the mid-90’s, and a great change—you’d think he could strike out more than four guys a game. Instead he comes into a game against a team that feasts on mistakes with a fragile hold on his command.. It’s becoming a refrain every time he pitches, but maybe this is the game where he puts it all together. If not, well…
Meanwhile, Rick Porcello has found the perfect home for himself as the number three starter in a very good Tigers rotation. Rick’s middle name is Alfred. More importantly (at least to the game of baseball) Porcello is not enjoying the type of success everyone expected from him after he posted a 3.96 ERA as a rookie in 2009—his ERA to date is an ugly 5.12. His SIERA is 3.83, suggesting that the all-leadfoot infield the Tigers trot out there with Fielder, Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta isn’t doing Porcello any favors. He’s held the Indians to a .671 OPS at Progressive through his career, but he’s been the beneficiary of facing some pretty bad Tribe squads in the past. Depending on which Ubaldo we get, this could be an easy win or a depressing loss. Realistically it shouldn’t be Porcello that beats the Indians, but we may well see Phil Coke in this one. And he does kill the Tribe. So here’s hoping for a huge first inning and a parade of relievers not named Coke.
Justin Verlander was simply sensational for the Tigers last year, but Fister added depth to an otherwise mediocre rotation and gave that one-two punch good playoff teams need. This year he’s just been out of sight. After getting hurt in his first start back in April, Firster has thrown 19 innings, allowing four earned runs while striking out 16. He’s recorded a 257 ERA+ and a 2.80 SIERA. He’s got ace-type stuff when he’s cooking, and right now it looks like Fister is cooking. Of course, he did allow three earned runs against the Twins, but it rains every once in a while in the desert too. He pitches like he has something to prove after all that time spent in the purgatory of Seattle, and he plainly relishes being on a team that can give him run support.
How about Zach McAllister? The second coming of Bob Feller he is not, but the guy competes. He won’t be long for the majors (and really, that’s good because the more he’s up there the more people figure him out, hone in on weaknesses and eventually batter him senseless) but while he’s here he give the Tribe a chance. Of course, he did a great job helping the Mariners keep it close his last time out, and hopefully he learned that marginal pitchers can’t afford to walk five batters in a game. Where the Mariners have three legitimate threats at the plate, the Tigers have seven or eight in the lineup, so McAllister will not have the margin of error he did against Seattle. lineup.
Game 3: Justin Verlander vs. Justin Masterson
Two aces, headed in opposite directions. That’s one mediocre storyline for this game. Justin Verlander is coming off what was almost his third career no-hitter but was instead a one-hit, 12 strikeout domination of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Whoever let that scheduling go through either loves seeing abuse, or was trying to force history. Either way, Justin has just been electric once again this year. Sixty-eight K’s in 67 ⅓ innings, 2.84 SIERA, two complete games and one shutout already—the guy is just an amazing pitcher. As with Josh Hamilton when the Rangers were in town, if Verlander goes ahead and strikes out 15 for another no-no bid, I won’t even be mad. Well, not that mad.
He throws strikes (1.84 BB/9) which negates a great advantage the Indians have in their walkability, and the variance of his pitches, between a 97 mph four-seamer in the seventh inning, a two-seamer that’s almost the same velocity, a devastating curve (up to 10 inches vertical break, according to FanGraphs) and an attitude of destruction. The guy is a dynamo. If the Indians get shut out at least it was by the best in the game. If they get to him, it’ll be all the sweeter.
The Indians’ Justin, meanwhile, is also an imposing figure on the mound, but he hasn’t been nearly as dominant this year. However, when last we saw the big Jamaican, he was in the process of having a vintage 2011 game—he held the Miami Marlins to two runs on six hits across seven innings. That’s not a bad team to do that to, and he again had double-digit ground balls forced while allowing only three line drives off the Marlins’ bats. We won’t dissect this any further, other than to say this is the man we hope to see every time out.
Where he only had one double play against the Marlins, the more methodical Tigers are more prone to the twin killing sp the basepaths should be pretty empty most of the night. Lifetime against the Tigers, he’s pitched 42 innings and gotten rocked for 51 hits and 24 earned runs (30 total). He needs to perform well in these divisional games, so an outing like he had the last time around is the bare minimum. Facing a guy like Verlander, he’ll need his best stuff. The way the other two pitching matchups break out, this could be the series’ deciding game, and Masterson has to be there.
The way the Indians trot out left handed hitters, if they can break into the Tigers bullpen early, get ready to see a lot of Phil Coke, Duane Below and Daniel Schlereth. Below and Coke especially could be silencing for the Tribe. Though Coke isn’t having a dazzling year (17 ⅔ innings, 16 K’s and nine runs scored) he just brings something extra against the Indians. Below has worked 19 ⅓ innings and struck out 17 and has a strong .828 WHIP.
The Tigers are in every game they play no matter the score because they have two of the best sluggers in the league and power throughout, so the Indians’ own bullpen needs to be great. This is the time that Chris Perez and the rest of the Bullpen Mafia need to show their mettle, and he needs to back up his words with actions. Tigers versus Indians is never a dull series. What’s more, it kicks off a swing through the AL Central, so early success could be that springboard to a commanding divisional lead. Don’t pretend you aren’t excited.