What's going on with the Tigers?
Despite losing two out of three games to the White Sox last week, the Tigers are still a pretty decent baseball squadron. They lead the American League Central by five games over Cleveland and lead MLB in run differential, having scored 157 more runs than they've allowed. A lot of that has to do with the Tigers just having a lot of really good players. Miguel Cabrera is likely going to win the AL MVP award for the second straight season and is batting an absurd .354/.447/.676 with 74 walks and just 78 strikeouts. You may have heard of him, but Detroit wouldn't be a top-two MLB team in all three slash stats without the help of Torii Hunter's amazing refusal to age (.305/.340/.463) and Austin Jackson's solid contributions from the leadoff spot (.269/.339/.416, red-hot right now).
Amazingly Detroit has been so good this year without great seasons from Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander. While pretty much the whole lineup has stepped up to cover Fielder's sub-par campaign, the rotation has been bolstered by Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez pitching as well as Verlander usually pitches.
Back in July the Tigers acquired Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox to play shortstop in case Jhonny Peralta got suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. That led to a fun trade-off in which the Tigers lost Peralta's above-average run production (when he did indeed get suspended) but gained one of the best defenders in the game (we still love you, too, Andrelton Simmons).
Looking forward a little for the Tigers, if second base prospect Devon Travis pans out, the team could have a solid double play combo for years to come. In the present day, Detroit just dropped a series at home to the Twins, but reserve catcher Bryan Holaday hit his first career home run! GIFs!
Who are these guys?
Matt Tuiasosopo might not get many at-bats this weekend because of his role as a lefty masher, but he deserves mention nevertheless because of the great job he's done for Detroit this season. He also deserves mention because geez, he hit .242/.329/.361 for the Buffalo Bisons last season and if the Mets saw this coming he sure would have been a nice guy to hang onto. Thank goodness for Marlon Byrd or the Mets would be kicking themselves even more for missing out on Tuiasosopo's fluky-good season. There might be something real to the outburst, though. In 155 plate appearances this season, Tuiasosopo's walk rate of 14.2 percent is much higher than any he posted in his previous major league seasons with the Mariners from 2008 to 2010. If the walks stay up and his power sticks around he could be a useful platoon guy in the future.
Al Alburquerque has a name that's very hard to spell if you're not from New Mexico, and he's going to make this post that much tougher to compose. That said, he is automatically awesome because of the way he confused radio host Mike Francesa during a Yankees vs. Tigers playoff series. Anyway, Alburquerque, whom nobody calls "Al Bur Querque or "Alberto Jose Alburquerque," is a wild slider-thrower who strikes out (career 13.26 per nine) and walks (6.25 per nine) an insane number of batters. He's part of a shaky middle relief outfit for Detroit that was recently shored up with the acquisition of Jose Veras from Houston.
Who's on the mound?
Friday: Doug Fister vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Despite having a rough injury history and being a non-prospect in the minor leagues all season, Matsuzaka is still a way more exciting pitcher than Fister. Detroit's fourth starter just bores hitters to death with his sinker, and this season he's been as boring as ever with a 57 percent ground ball rate. Just like any good sinker-thrower, Fister gets ground balls and gives up very few walks to make up for the fact that he's not great at striking batters out. It's all worked out very well for him this season, as he's posted a 3.5 fWAR in 161⅓ innings pitched. Last season, Fister pitched 161⅔ innings and had a 3.5 fWAR. Consistency! Boring! In contrast, Matsuzaka throws a wide variety of pitches and racks up a ton of strikeouts and walks. That's kind of exciting, but it also makes for dreadfully long baseball games.
Saturday: Max Scherzer vs. Matt Harvey
It's nice to have a pitcher like Scherzer around whose performance actually lives up to his won-lost record. That way we can all nod in agreement when the weirdos on TV rave about him. Sure, the TV people are raving about because of a terrible, terrible reason, but they are still on point because Scherzer really is that good this season. His 1.98 walks per nine are a career low and he's still striking out more than one batter per inning. Scherzer would be a perfectly acceptable winner of the AL Cy Young award if the season ended today. Meanwhile in the senior circuit, Matt Harvey is getting outshined by Clayton Kershaw because of WINZ (okay, also because of ERA and innings pitched, but Harvey has better walk and strikeout rates and it's fun to be mad about stuff sometimes).
Sunday: Rick Porcello vs. Dillon Gee
What a letdown after the superb match-up on Saturday. Yawn. But seriously, this is probably the game that'll be' tied 1-1 heading into the ninth (and the 10th, and the 11th...). Anyway, Porcello is from New Jersey if you haven't heard and he's having a splendid campaign despite his 4.52 ERA. Now in his fourth MLB season, Porcello is still only 24 years old and he's never before walked this few batters (2.00 per nine) or struck out this many (6.92). Those sweet rates combined with a Fister-like 56 percent ground ball rate have granted Porcello a 3.25 xFIP and a 2.5 fWAR that should turn into career highs if he keeps up his solid pitching. With the way Gee has been pitching this month, Sunday's game really could turn into a sneaky-good pitcher's duel that hipster baseball fans can enjoy while complaining about how "mainstream" flamethrowers like Harvey and Scherzer are.
What about some GIFs?
Miguel Cabrera is really good, so here he is clubbing three home runs against Texas without even hitting one to left field.
Max Scherzer might dominate the Mets on Saturday, but if you want to see him pitch well against a good lineup, here he is taking care of the Orioles earlier this season.
Bryce Harper gets beaned for existing in the universe, Torii Hunter flips his bat on doubles and fly outs and nothing happens. Double-U Tee Eff.