Barely removed from a campaign that won him the American League Cy Young Award, the first half of Max Scherzer's season has come to be defined by its inconsistency. This is perhaps best encapsulated by his last three starts.
Two weeks ago, Scherzer threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout against the White Sox. The Tigers right-hander suffered through his worst outing of the year in his next start -- a four-inning, 10-run disaster dealt by a red-hot Royals lineup -- only to bounce back to dominance in his most recent appearance, which saw him hold the Indians to one run over six innings.
The difference came not in anything mechanical, he says, but rather in how he formulated his attack strategy.
"I came out with a better idea with what I wanted to execute [against the Indians], what pitches I wanted to throw, and changed up what I wanted to do with two strikes," Scherzer said last Sunday. "I was much more aggressive today about coming into the zone and not trying to nibble, not trying to pitch around a hitter. I came right after them."
So which version of Scherzer will Tigers fans see against the ailing Astros on Saturday?
If past success means anything, Scherzer should keep the strong performance coming this weekend. He mastered the Houston lineup when the two last met in May, allowing just three hits and a walk over eight scoreless innings, and owns a career 3.52 ERA against the club, with 46 strikeouts to 10 walks over 38 1/3 innings.
Of course, the Astros own an impressive track record of their own against top-flight pitchers this year, having already beaten the likes of Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and R.A. Dickey.
"They have a lot of young talent, and when you have young talent playing well they're always dangerous. So you've got to bring your A-game," Scherzer said. "They can hit me hard and they've done it in the past."
The Astros will counter with left-hander Brett Oberholtzer, who will rejoin the rotation as a fill-in for injured starter Dallas Keuchel.
Originally scheduled to start on Saturday, Keuchel had his start scratched after experiencing inflammation in his left wrist. Oberholtzer has spent much of the season floating between Houston, where he has gone 2-6 with a 4.76 ERA in nine starts, and Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The expected callup will mark Oberholtzer's third stint with the big league club this year. He took the loss in his last start against the Tigers, allowing four runs in six innings at Comerica Park on May 6.
Tigers: Kinsler hits against Houston
Second baseman Ian Kinsler has some fond memories of facing Astros pitching.
Kinsler entered the weekend with a .332 batting average -- seventh best of any active player against the Astros -- to go along with 16 doubles, four triples, 11 homers and 33 RBIs in 60 games against the team. His success against Houston continued on Friday, as he went 3-for-5 in his sixth consecutive multi-hit game, which is the longest such streak of his career.
The last Detroit player to match that feat was Miguel Cabrera in 2011.
Astros: Altuve the All-Star?
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve entered Saturday with the most hits (111), stolen bases (32) and the highest batting average (.342) in the American League. Were Altuve to still hold the AL lead in all three categories at the All-Star break, he would be only the second player since 1957 to do that, joining Ichiro Suzuki (2003).
Altuve's batting average is over 60 points higher than any other player on the Astros roster in the wake of Friday night's four-hit performance, which gives him a hit in nine of his last 10 games.
"Jose Altuve is an All-Star second baseman," manager Bo Porter said. "He is the catalyst to our offense. He's on base and stealing bases and getting everyone that comes behind him better pitches to hit, so positive things happen."
• Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler was a late scratch from Friday night's lineup card due to tightness in his back. Outfielder Alex Presley got the start in his absence and went 1-for-4 at the plate, while Altuve replaced Fowler in the leadoff spot.
• The Tigers saw their seven-game winning streak snapped with Friday night's 11th-inning walk-off loss, while the Astros improved to 3-8 in their last 11 games.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.