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5/17: Series Opener at Detroit

The Rays face the Tigers for the first time this season. It's going to be interesting to watch the Tigers over the next few years, the fortunes of the franchise could easily go either way. After that abysmal 2003 they started spending money and due to additions such as Carlos Guillen and Pudge Rodriguez (not to downplay the contributions from surprises like Brandon Inge that were already on the roster) gave them a huge jump in the standings. The problem is that their farm system is mostly barren right now and will need a few years to get back into shape so it's going to be tough to build a contender since most significant additions will have to be made through free agency for now.

The way I see it is the Tigers can maintain a decent enough team for now and build a contender off of it in the future but they can't afford major mistakes. They have to draft and develop well to produce the cheap young talent necessary to build a winner without a huge budget. They obviously will be able to sign free agents but a mistake like the Bobby Higginson contract could cripple them, as could spending money on good players but not spending wisely. As for this year I think they'll be what we hope the Rays will be too, a team that isn't a contender but does decent and ends up maybe a few games under .500.

The Matchup

Casey Fossum (20.2 IP, 3.92 ERA, 23 K, 8 BB, 2 HR) vs. Jason Johnson (42.1 IP, 4.25 ERA, 18 K, 11 BB, 4 HR)

Johnson is another one of the former Devil Rays (1998) sprinkled throughout the majors, though about half of them seem to be on the Yankees or Red Sox. Surprisingly his actual ERA does mirror his performance so far (measured by DIPS ERA). Looking at his poor strikeout rate and K/BB ratio of under 2.00 I thought his DIPS would be higher.

Except for Opening Day I don't think I've been more excited about a game this season. I've been touting Fossum as deserving a shot in the rotation since before the season even started. I'm also nervous because of that, I really hope he does well and justifies my faith; it's also important for him to not blow his chance, considering the snap decisions Lou tends to make, particularly with pitchers he doesn't personally favor, if he does poorly he might not get another start.

I'm optimistic though, he has a couple more walks so far than I'd like but his strikeout rate is the best on the team (10.02 K/9), his K/BB ratio is in good shape, and his G/F ratio is around 0.88 according to The Hardball Times so he shouldn't be a danger to give up a lot of home runs.

A question mark about him has been durability, there seems to be doubts that he can last long enough into the game consistently to be a starter. I think that may be mostly a product of his build, he's only 6'1" and very thin, one of those biases that comes up these days against guys that don't "look" like pitchers. Looking at his splits his second and third worst OPS againsts are from 1-15 and 16-30 pitches. Although his worst OPS against is indeed later in the game (76-90) and for the three pitch counts preceding it the OPS against does steadily rise, his BEST OPS against is from 91-105 pitches. Admittedly, that's in a smaller sample size than all the pitch counts before it but I can't see that his performance by the number of pitches thrown is conclusive one way or another at this point. That's something that needs to be determined on the field while healthy (something he wasn't in Arizona).

The Lineup

Crawford LF
Lugo SS
Huff 1B
Phelps DH
Singleton CF
Cantu 2B
Sanchez RF
Hall C
Gonzalez 3B

I think I'm ok with that lineup...I'd rather see Green than Gonzalez but I don't see anything that makes me want to punch something, so that's a plus.

Pudge Rodriguez and Dmitri Young were both injured the other day but are in the lineup tonight. That will be something to keep in mind, either of them might leave early if the aggravate their problems.