Today, Doug Fister got knocked around in the 5th and finished with 5 earned on 9 hits in 4 2/3 innings. That raised his season ERA all the way up to 3.62. By the standards of Tigers starts in this series against the Texas Rangers, Fisters wasn’t half bad. For one thing, he only walked one guy. For another, he made it out of the third inning! Both Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez were knocked out after only 8 outs – Sanchez allowing 6 runs in that span and Verlander 8. Both guys featured uncharacteristically iffy command. These are good pitchers, as you well know. Even after those poundings, Sanchez’ ERA sits at 2.77 and Verlander’s at 3.17. AND, of course, the Texas Rangers are one of the (if not THE) best hitting teams in the American League, especially in Arlington. We assume that Verlander and Sanchez (and Fister) will be fine. Though the Tigers have fallen behind the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central race with those three losses, we assume that the Tigers will be fine too. They’re right in the thick of things, exactly where we want them to be. Angels fans, Dodgers fans, Phillies fans, Blue Jays fans, these are fans who should be alarmed by the holes that their teams have put themselves in. The Tigers just have to win some head-to-head games against some tough Rust Belt competition. They can do that.
Of course, the Texas series wasn’t a 3-gamer and the Tigers didn’t get swept. NOR did Ace #2 Max Scherzer step up to stop the bleeding. The only good start and the only win the Tigers got in the series was thanks to fan whipping-boy Rick Porcello. In 5 2/3 innings on Friday night, Porcello allowed only one run on a solo homer by Geovany Soto. He struck out six and walked only 1. Being Rick Porcello, he didn’t make it through the 6th, but the Tigers DID get the win despite having to scrabble for 3 runs on only 6 hits. We’ve already established: the Texas Rangers are a good offensive team, especially at home. That’s why we can excuse those (highly) uncharacteristic starts from Verlander & Sanchex, and to a lesser extent Fister. But how on earth did Rick Porcello manage to get these guys out??? His ERA, even after that good start, just barely dropped below SIX.
One thing, clearly, is that Rick Porcello is a better pitcher than his godawful 2 out start against the Angels. If you only count his other appearances, his ERA is close to 4.00 and his WHIP is close to 1.10. Those aren’t bad numbers. Rick Porcello is probably the Tigers 5th best starter (and maybe the 6th) mostly because the other guys are so good. The second thing is that Porcello is throwing the ball pretty hard right now and getting some swinging strikeouts. Five of those six strikeouts by Porcello were swinging, only one looking. That’s despite the fact that Rangers batters missed very few pitches from Kid Rick with fewer than two strikes. On Friday ngiht, Porcello was able to do the thing that has eluded him for most of his young career – he was able to finish guys off. As was explained in September by Michael Barr at Fangraphs – Rick Porcello’s slider is not able to do that any more than his fastball is (though that fastball was up a tick Friday at about an average of 93). According to Brooksbaseball.net, Porcello threw 10 sliders and didn’t get a single swing and miss on them. Perhaps because 8 of them missed the zone. The pitches that did generate swings and misses, at least when Porcello needed them to, were his curveball and his changeup – though he did actually get one whiff on a sinker. Porcello also did a lot of what he has tended to do so well – generated weak and pointless contact. Of Porcello’s 106 pitches thrown on Friday, he had 58 SNIPs (strikes not in play) with only 6 whiffs. That means they took a lot of strikes and it means they fouled off a lot of pitches.
Porcello remains a work in progress – he has a lot of plus attributes and never really seems to be THAT far from excellence (except when he’s getting knocked around in the first). And baseball is a funny game – it’s hard to say what’s going to happen on any given night. If you had to pick ONE GAME in that series to watch, would you have picked Friday’s game?? If you had picked, for example, the Verlander-Darvish Thursday duel you would have been sorely disappointed. But Porcello came through… go figure.