The Royals, now officially eliminated from the AL Central race and unofficially eliminated from the Wild Card race, have one task at hand, and it’s to finish strong. If in the process of finishing strong, they spoil some dreams along the way, that wouldn’t be too bad. The Tigers have dreams of the Wild Card themselves, and the Royals can do a lot of damage to them this weekend to keep them out of that game. The Royals are 10-6 against Detroit this year, so they’ve already wrapped up the season series, but it never hurts to pour it on a little bit. The Royals are 4-2 in Detroit this season, which includes a three-game sweep in August.
They can hit. They’re, of course, led by Miguel Cabrera, but J.D. Martinez has been every bit the offensive force Miggy has. They’ve actually put up some remarkably similar numbers this season. In addition to those two, Victor Martinez has really bounced back this season, though he’s struggled lately. There’s just a lot of weapons, especially with Justin Upton finally coming around and hitting well.
Tigers Offense the Last Month:
You know the story here. Justin Verlander isn’t what he was in his prime, but he’s back to being an excellent pitcher. Michael Fulmer has slumped in the second half a bit, but he’s still put together a fantastic rookie campaign. And then there are questions. Anibal Sanchez has been mostly bad. Mike Pelfrey isn’t good. Jordan Zimmermann, after a scorching start has been hurt and then ineffective. Now, Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris have both had their moments, so that’s kind of scary for the future, but both are somewhat inconsistent. Still, I see the makings of an excellent rotation moving forward.
Tigers Starters the Last Month:
The bullpen really hasn’t been that bad, though there are still plenty of holes. One of the biggest developments is Bruce Rondon being effective this season because he brings something they don’t really have elsewhere when he’s going well. He can strike guys out and if his control is on, he’s tough to beat. Francisco Rodriguez isn’t a conventional closer as he doesn’t have strikeout stuff anymore, but he’s had a solid year. Sure, Mark Lowe has been terrible, but even he’s picked it up of late.
Tigers Relievers the Last Month:
Forecasts provided by Sensible Weather. For daily MLB weather forecasts, visit sensibleweather.com and follow along on Twitter (@SensibleWeather).
Game 1, Friday: Danny Duffy vs. Michael Fulmer
This is an interesting matchup because both these pitchers had a Cy Young case at some point that relied on them continuing their dominance because their innings were short. Like Duffy, Fulmer has remained very good, but hasn’t been dominant, so he’s fallen out of the race. Still, it’s hard to argue with the kind of season he’s had, allowing way less than a hit per inning to go along with a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s been up and down in the second half, but still hasn’t been bad with a 4.00 ERA since the break and is averaging almost 6.2 innings per start. It’s not the ace-level line he’d put up earlier this year, but there’s certainly plenty of value in what he’s done. He’s pitched well against the Royals with a 2.75 ERA in three starts, but has an 0-2 record to show for it.
Three things to watch for against Fulmer:
- He throws hard and, when he’s on, has some good movement, so I think the strikeouts will come for him eventually. He averages almost 96 MPH on his fastball that he throws about 37 percent of the time. He has a 95-96 MPH sinker, a really good slider and a changeup that can be fantastic. In fact, it’s so fantastic that he’s allowed just a .140 average and .163 slugging percentage on it. The slider is pretty great too. Really, it’s all been good for him with the fastball the most hittable at a .245 average allowed and .465 SLG.
- For a guy who seems to be fading down the stretch, I don’t think it’s any surprise that he fades in his outings as well, at least not at this point of the season. Like many great pitchers, he can be hit decently early with a .700 OPS allowed the first time through the order and a .701 OPS allowed on his first 25 pitches. Once he gets past 75 pitches, though, he’s been hit pretty hard, allowing nine of his 16 homers and allowing a .523 SLG from pitch 76-100. With expanded rosters, Brad Ausmus can have a quick hook with him, but if the Royals can hang in for four or five innings, they can get to him. That was sort of their formula in their last meeting as they had just one hit through three innings, but then scored two in the fourth and one in the fifth.
- Fulmer has been better against lefties, partially because his fastball has been crushed by righties but has been a disaster for lefties. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have taken him deep while Kendrys Morales is 3 for 7 against him with three walks. Cheslor Cuthbert also has four hits and two doubles against him, so that’s a matchup that’s worked out for the Royals in the limited exposure.
Duffy’s numbers have taken a bit of a hit by being left in games to cover for a tired/maybe overexposed bullpen. His last two starts, he’s allowed three runs total in the first 14 innings pitched, but then when brought out for the eighth, has been charged for three more in just 0.1 innings. Still, he’s continued to be a very good pitcher and has amazingly turned into a workhorse. Since June 27, he’s made 16 starts and averaged almost exactly seven innings per start. He’s had a 3.08 ERA in that time with a 5.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. It’s been awfully fun to watch. He currently has struck out 9.601 batters per nine innings, which is relevant because the Royals record before this year was 9.513 (held by Tom Gordon in 1991), so that would be a fun record to break. He also has a 5.028:1 strikeout to walk ratio, which is currently tops in team history, ahead of Zack Greinke’s 4.745 in 2009. He can easily break both those records, but needs a couple good starts to do it. He’s 5-6 with a 3.42 ERA in 18 games (15 starts) against the Tigers in his career, and that includes a 2-0 record with a 5.06 ERA in six games (four starts) this year. He’s actually done a nice job against most of the Tigers hitters. Victor Martinez has been really solid against him and Iglesias has a .308 average in 16 plate appearances, but he’s held down the big bats.
Game 2, Saturday: Yordano Ventura vs. Daniel Norris
Norris seems to have found his groove in September with a 24:4 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s still not what you’d call an innings eater, having finished six or more innings in just three of his 11 starts, but he’s also done it in three of his last five, so maybe he’s starting to come around. With Norris, he has the stuff, but like most young pitchers, he just needs to put it together. Since returning to the majors on August 9, he’s made eight starts and has a 3.27 ERA in 44 innings. Again, he’s not giving a ton of innings, but the Tigers don’t need that right now with September roster expansions. The innings he’s giving are pretty quality. He’s still more hittable than you’d expect, but I think he has a big future. In his career against the Royals, he’s 0-1 with a 3.57 ERA in three starts with the loss coming this year along with a 3.18 ERA in two starts. He’s generally been pretty good against KC.
Three things to watch for against Norris:
- He’s moved away from his sinker this year to focus more on his fastball, which seems to have been a good move for him. Now he’s throwing the fastball 52 percent of the time and averaging 93-94 MPH on it with good movement. He still throws the sinker occasionally, but not nearly as much. He also has a changeup, slider and the occasional curve. The curve is more for righties as lefties have hit it well, but the changeup has been a very good pitch to keep right-handed bats off balance. The sinker, on the other hand, has not been. He’s allowed a .571 average and .810 slugging percentage against it, and that’s all to righties on that pitch.
- He’s struggled at Comerica Park, which is kind of odd, having allowed a .295/.352/.523 line there. On another note, I think he might be too focused on getting ahead in the count as opponents are hitting .423 with a .731 slugging percentage when the at bat ends on the first pitch. I guess I get it because he’s allowed a .333/.466/.551 line when he’s behind in the count, but he’s thrown a first-pitch strike 63 percent of the time, so maybe he should waste one early. The stuff is good enough that he should get some first pitch whiffs.
- He’s had almost no platoon split this year with a .782 OPS allowed to righties and a .790 OPS allowed to lefties. Alcides Escobar is the only Royals hitter to have homered off Norris, but a few guys have gotten some good swings in limited plate appearances. Of course, one of them is Lorenzo Cain, who is 3 for 5 with a double, but he won’t be in there for this one.
Ventura is coming off his first career nine-inning complete game, which is cool for him. It’s just another start in a line of up and down ones for him this season. On the whole, he’s been okay. I mean if this is who he is, then he’s most definitely worth the money on his contract, but you also know he’s capable of so much more. Since leaving that start against Philadelphia with the ankle issue, he’s made 14 starts, averaged 6.1 innings per start and had a 3.45 ERA. That’s pretty solid. He hasn’t struck out as many as you’d expect and he’s given up more hits than you’d expect, but the results are there at least. As we head into the 2017 season, my expectations for Ventura are to be a guy who can give 190 or so innings around the league average. I’ve given up expecting an ace performance all year, but also know that what he’s done is valuable as well. The Tigers have been good for him. He’s 7-0 in his career against them with a 2.84 ERA in 11 games (10 starts). This year, he’s 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts against them. This is clearly a good matchup for him. J.D. Martinez is not a good matchup for him though, as he’s 8 for 17 with three doubles against him. Victor Martinez has also hit him well, but outside of the Martinez duo and some stray at bats from Maybin and Moya, he’s held down most Tigers hitters in the past.
Game 3, Sunday: Edinson Volquez vs. Matt Boyd
From a division foe’s perspective, watching Boyd develop hasn’t been so much fun, but from a baseball perspective, it’s been very interesting. He was an absolute disaster last season for the most part, posting a 7.53 ERA in total and a 6.57 ERA after coming over to the Tigers. He was extremely hittable and gave up a ton of homers. In fact, he gave up 17 in just 57.1 innings last year. This year, he’s given up 16 in 97.1 innings. That’s still a lot, but you can work with that. He’s upped his strikeouts and lowered his walks, which has helped. He’s also allowed less hits in general, which is a good thing for him as well. He came back to the Tigers on July 9 and has been a different pitcher since, going 6-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 13 games and 12 starts. His stuff isn’t elite or anything so he’ll make mistakes, but he’s turned into a quality pitcher for the Tigers. The Royals have knocked him around. He’s 1-2 with a 7.43 ERA in five starts against KC, but he had his moments last year. This year, he gave up seven runs on eight hits in 3.2 innings in his only start against the Royals.
Three things to watch for against Boyd:
- He doesn’t have the stuff Norris does but has a similar repertoire. He throws a 92 MPH fastball about 40 percent of the time and a sinker that’s slightly slower about 20 percent of the time. He also has a changeup, slider and curve and throws a very occasional cutter. The curve has been hit hard when hit’s been hit, but hasn’t been that easy to hit. The fastball and sinker are the pitches that he’s given up the most damage on, though.
- Amazingly, Boyd has been dominant on the first pitch. When the at bat ends there, he’s allowed a .194 average with a .290 SLG. That’s pretty incredible. My advice? Just take it. Where he’s struggled is with runners in scoring position, allowing a .364/.384/.530 line, though 13 of the 16 homers he’s allowed have been with the bases empty.
- He’s been fantastic against lefties, allowing a .598 OPS compared to .762 against righties. I imagine Hunter Dozier will get a turn in the lineup in this one. I hope anyway. I think he can do some damage here. Morales has two doubles, a triple and a homer against Boyd in 11 at bats, but among Royals hitters who have seen him more than a couple times, he’s the only one with huge success other than Cain, who as mentioned above, isn’t going to play in all likelihood.
Volquez is coming off his best start in some time, and maybe can build on that. The season hasn’t been good for him with more walks, less strikeouts and way more runs allowed. He’s also allowed a career-high 22 homers, which is three more than his previous. But he’s on track to get to 190 innings for the third straight year, which has some value, I guess. We’ll talk about his future with the Royals more in the coming weeks, but I wonder if that $10 million mutual option (which is really only an addition $7 million to the Royals because of the buyout) starts to look more attractive to both sides if he puts up a couple decent starts to end the season. Unlike Ventura, the Tigers haven’t been an elixir for Volquez. He’s 3-4 with a 5.46 ERA in 10 career starts against them, but is 2-0 with a 4.05 ERA in three starts this year, so that’s not too bad. Upton has crushed him with five doubles and a homer, but of note, he’s held Victor Martinez to a .125/.143/.167 line in 28 plate appearances. Really, Kinsler and Upton are the only two who have hit him really well.
I don’t know why I think this, but I think the Royals match up well with the Tigers and will take two of three in this series. I feel like they win the Duffy start and then find a way to win one of the other two. If they can do that, it would be called a successful spoiling series.