Aug 28, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Detroit Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler (3) hits a single in the seventh inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Royals at Detroit Tigers, September 4-6

This is the portion of the schedule where the Royals have to clean up. They take on a Tigers team that is a shell of what it once was. They’ve dealt J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Justin Wilson and Justin Verlander. Maybe it’s something about guys whose names start with “J” or maybe they’re just finally rebuilding, but either way, this is not a good team anymore. To add to it, they’ll be without Miguel Cabrera in this series due to suspension. Sure he’s having a down year, but he’s still Miguel Cabrera. Oh yeah, and Michael Fulmer is out for at least a couple weeks, so their rotation is a mess and their bullpen is what we all know it is. Combine that with a lackluster lineup now and these are games the Royals should win if they want to play beyond game 162.

Tigers Vitals

Record 58-78
Standings 4th Place, AL Central
Team TAv .255
Team SP DRA 5.22
Team RP DRA 5.64
Team WARP Leader Michael Fulmer, 3.6
2017 Record vs. Royals 6-7

Royals vs. Tigers

Royals vs Tigers Runs

Offense

Royals vs Tigers Offense

Pitching

Royals vs Tigers Pitching

Tigers Projected Lineup

AVG OBP SLG TAv WARP
Ian Kinsler .237 .316 .387  .238 0.8
Alex Presley .304 .349 .379  .253  -0.3
Nicholas Castallanos .252 .306 .451  .254 0.6
John Hicks .302 .360 .492  .280 0.7
Mikie Mahtook .275 .330 .452  .274 1.0
James McCann .264 .332 .448  .265 0.6
Jeimer Candelario .333 .333 .333  .229 0.0
JaCoby Jones .167 .261 .244  .175 -0.4
Jose Iglesias .263 .297 .375  .227 0.8

The Matchups

Monday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Jake Junis 14 63.1 6 2 4.41 4.90 0.5
Artie Lewicki (AAA Stats) 5 31.0 5 0 2.03 2.58

Lewicki was picked in the eighth round in 2014 by the Tigers. Aside from a rough go of it in the Arizona Fall League last season, he’s succeeded at every level he’s been at in his minor league career. While he wasn’t nearly as good in a much larger sample in AA, the 25-year old dominated his five starts in AAA with a strong strikeout rate, good control and an aversion to allowing the home run. While he isn’t the name of some of the big-time prospects, his ability to get ground balls and avoid hard contact is right up there with some guys who have been in top-100 lists.

He throws a decent fastball that averages around 92-93, but can get up into the mid-90s at times to go along with a breaking ball and a changeup. He was a reliever early in his professional career and has had some durability questions in his career, but he’s made 25 total starts this season and has eclipsed 90 pitches in eight of his last nine starts. This is the type of pitcher the Royals tend to clam up against, so I don’t have high hopes here, but you never know. It stands to reason that if he’s on his game, he will be working down in the zone, and while he’s actually been better against left-handed hitters this year, Mike Moustakas has a .500 slugging percentage or better in all six of the strike zone quadrants in the middle and bottom row. With his stuff, if Lewicki is living there, we could see Balboni’s record fall. Whit Merrifield’s ability to hit fastballs, along with Lewicki being worse against righties could make for a big game for the Royals leadoff hitter as well.

Junis has been the Royals best starting pitcher over the last few weeks, which is both a nice thing for the future and bad for the present. Good is good, though, and in five starts in August he went 25 innings, allowing just five runs on 23 hits with 24 strikeouts, one walk and zero home runs allowed. Junis has been a guy who has taken a little time to adjust to a new level and while I don’t think he’s this good, that’ll play.

Tuesday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Jason Vargas 26 151.1 14 9 3.87 4.31 2.1
Anibal Sanchez 22 77.2 3 3 6.95 7.15 -1.4

Prior to the 2013 season, I advocated the Royals just spend the money on Anibal Sanchez and hang on to Wil Myers rather than trade for James Shields. I think it’s only fair to reveal that from time to time. Now, he’s a disaster of a big league pitcher. For awhile, it looked like he might find his way to being serviceable again, but he has an 8.37 ERA in his last seven starts, and I honestly don’t think he’s been that good even. He got the start against the Royals in late July when the Tigers lost 16-2, if you were looking for an example of his struggles.

Sanchez works with a fastball, changeup, sinker, slider, curve and cutter. If that seems like a lot of pitches, it is. His drop in velocity has made his fastball and sinker both pretty easy to hit, but the real issue this season is the slider. He’s allowed a .565 average and 1.044 slugging percentage. I know it’s not many at bats that ended on it, but that’s insane. He’s also only struck out one batter using it. Lorenzo Cain and Whit Merrifield are both hitting over .300 on sliders, which makes them good bets in this one if they can pick out that slider. They rank third and second respectively on the team in slugging percentage against sliders and trail only Moustakas. Add in Melky Cabrera’s career .429/.429/.548 line and Eric Hosmer’s .350/.409/.525 line against Sanchez and the Royals will have ample opportunity to put some runs on the board.

And they might need those runs the way Vargas has been pitching lately. He had a forgettable August, going 1-5 with a 7.18 ERA in six starts spanning only 31.1 innings. His control that was so great early in the year hasn’t been there and he’s been bit hard by the home run ball. The Tigers have been good against lefties, but without Martinez, Cabrera and Upton, they lose some firepower. I’m still concerned, though, so the Royals would be safer to score lots of runs than hope Vargas finds his early season form again.

Wednesday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Jason Hammel 27 155.2 7 10 4.80 4.29 2.3
Matt Boyd 21 103.1 5 8 5.92 6.68 -1.3

Matt Boyd, like many Tigers, has been terrible this season. Expected to be a key cog in their rotation, he was demoted to AAA for a time earlier this season. Since coming back from his exile, he’s gone 3-3 with a 6.19 ERA in 48 innings. He’s just giving up way too many hits this season. He is coming off a solid start against Cleveland his last time out, but it was just the third time in 20 starts that he allowed fewer than two runs. He’s faced the Royals twice this year. Once he was terrible and once he was okay. Okay seems like his ceiling right now.

Boyd has a nice mix of pitches, offering a fastball at 92-93, a changeup, a sinker and a curve. He also mixes a slider and a cutter at time, but they’re mostly for show. Everything has been hit, but when he’s right, his changeup is his weapon to get right-handed bats out. When it’s not right, he’s a mess and can have one of those starts that will make you cringe. The first time through the order, Boyd gets hit pretty hard, allowing a .301/.369/.513 line. You think that’s bad, but the second time through, he’s allowed a .386/.432/.589 line. That’s horrendous. What’s interesting is if he gets to the third time through the order, he actually improves big time, allowing just a .649 OPS. Luckily, those first two lines are so bad that he doesn’t get to face the third time too often. Being young, Boyd doesn’t have a ton of experience against anyone, but Merrifield, Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas have all hit him well in their careers.

While Junis has been the Royals best pitcher recently, Hammel has been solid for awhile. I feel like I mention this every start he makes, but you can pretty much count on Hammel going around six innings and giving up two to four runs. There are worse things than having that certainty. His numbers against the Tigers this season are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. 16.1 innings over three starts with a 4.41 ERA. That fits the profile basically perfectly.


 

The Royals should probably sweep this series. But we know their issues right now, so I don’t think they will. Still, I think the Tigers are enough in the tank that even a struggling team can hit them up for two wins in a three-game set, so that’s how I see this one shaking out.

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