Tigers Should Have Edge with Rick Porcello Versus Matt Harrison


If the Detroit Tigers plan on advancing to the World Series, they might just have to out-pitch the Texas Rangers the rest of the way.

Coming into the series, the Tigers figured to offer a lineup that could at least come close to matching the production featured by the mighty Rangers’ bats. Even before last night, with the loss of Magglio Ordonez to a fractured ankle, and with Delmon Young and Alex Avila attempting to play through their ailments, the Tigers seemed to be at a significant disadvantage in terms of offensive potency. Throw in Victor Martinez and his strained rib cage muscle, and the Tigers are in serious trouble.

You have to assume that even if Young and VMart can get back out on the field, they won’t be anywhere near as effective as they otherwise might have been. Unfortunately for Detroit, there aren’t any reinforcements left to call in.

As they did last night, when Doug Fister held the vaunted Rangers club to a mere two runs over 7.1 innings, the Tigers will have to win with pitching. They figure to have an edge, at least on paper, in Game Five tomorrow with Justin Verlander taking the hill. Games Six and Seven, should they get that far, will offer Max Scherzer and then another dose of Fister, but those games will happen in the hitter-haven that is Rangers Ballpark.

Because of the injuries and the strength of the club they’re playing, the Tigers cannot afford to go down three-games-to-one. The man charged with evening the series this afternoon is Rick Porcello.

At first glance, given Porcello’s uneven campaign, you might expect the Tigers to be in trouble. But the Rangers feature a right-handed heavy lineup, which plays into Porcello’s strengths. For his career, the Tigers’ right hander has held right handed hitters to a .257/.302/.388/.690 line while lefties have him him at .302/.350/.451/.801. Rangers manager Ron Washington surely knows those numbers, but might be tempted to keep Yorvit Torreabla’s bat in the lineup after his three-hit effort last night. This would leave Texas with only two left handed hitters tonight; Josh Hamilton and either David Murphy or Endy Chavez.

On the other side, the Rangers are handing their series lead to southpaw Matt Harrison. While his history suggests the Tigers can have success against him, Harrison has been a different pitcher this season than he was in his first three years.

Used mainly in relief last season, Harrison had made 63 appearances (32 starts) in the big leagues before this season. In those 225.1 innings, he pitched to a 5.39 ERA. This season, however, Harrison made 30 starts and pitched to an ERA of just 3.39. Ordinarily, you’d fear that Detroit’s injured right handed hitters (Young, Ordonez, and Martinez) could put the Tigers at a disadvantage versus Harrison, but his platoon splits have been fairly even over his career and significantly backwards this season in particular. In 2011, left handers hit Harrison at a .275 clip (.729 OPS) while right handed hitters fared much worse at .249 (.667 OPS).

While Harrison did see far better results overall in 2011 than his previous campaigns, the Tigers tuned him up for 17 hits and seven earned runs over ten innings in two starts this year, both Rangers losses. In four career games (3 starts) at Comerica Park, Harrison is just 1-3 with a 5.66 ERA. He has allowed 29 hits and 13 runs in just 20.2 innings and has issued more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) to Tigers hitters.

If Harrison gets in trouble early, Tiger-killer Alexi Ogando will be ready to go this afternoon and the back-end of the Texas bullpen is not something you want to face when behind. The Tigers will need not only to capitalize on Harrison early, but they’ll need a huge performance from Porcello to keep the Rangers down.

If they can get a win today, they could set themselves up to head back to Arlington with a 3-2 series edge and a good shot to move on to the World Series. A loss today means they’d have to win each of the next three games to make it happen. As much as Game Three was a must-win for Detroit, Game Four is as well.