Game 2013.50: Pirates at Tigers

29-20, 1st place, 2.5 games up.

Great team win last night. JV was good, not great, and the bats put up enough runs to cover up some poor 8th inning pitching and fielding. Valverde came in and gave up his usual baserunner (who somehow didn’t steal 2nd base – worst advance scouting of all time?), before striking out Andrew McCutchen to end the game. Valverde’s .75 ERA is as misleading as an online dating photo, and last night was a great example of this. Two 3 ball counts in 4 batters, and out of 15 pitches, 14 were fastballs between 90 and 93 mph. No one has done more with less since David Hasselhoff did anything.

That’s 7 wins out of 8 in case you lost track. For all of the shortfalls we tend to notice around here, we owe it to the boys to celebrate a job well done.

Let’s go Tigers.

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Let’s talk for a minute about Alex Avila. I know that everyone is frustrated with his performance (or lack thereof), and many are clamoring for Pena to be the starter. Over the last ten games, Avila is batting .121; Pena is batting .405. Avila is hitting .171 for the year, and Pena’s average now stands at .313. A few thoughts on this.

1) I don’t know that we have a starter right now. They split starts in the Cle and Min series, and Pena played last night. Yes, some of this is match-ups, but the fact that JL is playing match-ups at catcher says something.

2) Avila isn’t going to hit .171 all year. His BABIP is .221. This is significantly lower than the ~.290 that you see around MLB, and much lower than his career .315 BABIP. So his average will come up. But there is reason to worry. One reason why he has a healthier career BABIP than most is because of his power. But that may have gone away. In 2013 he’s hitting more ground balls than ever before (1.60 GB/FB v. 1.20 career average) and his LD rate of 18.8% is the lowest since his first partial season in 2009 (21.6% career). Simply put, he’s not hitting the ball as hard as he usually does.  This is further evidenced by his low ISO (.114) and manifests itself as a lack of XBH. Pena has 1 less XBH (6 to 5) in roughly 1/2 the ABs.

3) Avila has lost his place discipline. He’s not walking very often (9.5% vs. 12.6% career) and he’s striking out more (31.4% vs. 24% career).

4) Other than Porcello, I don’t know how much direction our staff really needs. So any advantage that Avila may provide in that respect, is likely negligible.

5) Nothing in Pena’s history would lead us to believe that his 2013 start is sustainable, and he’s likely too old (31) to have a breakout year.

Thus, in conclusion, I’m not sure what’s wrong with Avila. Either he’s injured, or his swing has changed. But I also don’t think that Pena is the long term solution. So I’d look for a continuation of a liberal platoon, with Avila getting slightly better over time. I used to have hopes that Avila could be a perennial all-star. With his sweet swing and good eye, he seemed to have the right tools. But the peripherals this year point in the wrong direction. Remember – he’s only 26, so he’s got some time. But not much.

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Game two of the home set against the Bucs tonight before the Tigers head to Pittsburgh for another two. If you could only focus on Porcello’s last 5 starts, you’d see a serviceable 2-0 record, 3.24 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 3 QS. Excellent numbers for a #5 starter. Now, for the year, he’s posting a 6.28 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and .299 BAA, which are more inline with the #5 guy in Toledo.

Jeanmar Gomez has been very good this year – 2-2, 2.75 ERA, but not so good against the Tigers in his career – 2-2, 7.82 ERA.

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A few notes:

– Cubs pitchers are slugging .667 in May with 6 doubles, 3 HR and 15 RBI.

– Lots of rain forecast for tonight. May be tough to get this one in.

– AJax is eligible to come off of the DL today; but no word on when he’ll start a rehab assignment.

Tonight’s Series Sweeping Lineup:

1. Dirks, LF
2. Hunter, RF
3. Cabrera, 3B
4. Fielder, 1B
5. Martinez, DH
6. Peralta, SS
7. Avila, C
8. Infante, 2B
9. Kelly, CF