Mar 30, 2018; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) receives congratulations from designated hitter Victor Martinez (41) after scoring in the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Royals at Detroit Tigers, April 2-4

The Royals and Tigers both will be searching for their first wins in this series as both were swept to open their seasons, both losing to teams that weren’t expected to compete this year. Anything can happen and all that, but that seems to be a pretty good anecdote to describe these two clubs. What I find interesting about the Tigers is that they look to be very bad, but have potentially a top five American League player in Miguel Cabrera and a top five American League pitcher in Michael Fulmer. I know that Cabrera had a terrible year last year and is old and injured, but I wouldn’t count him out. Still, I don’t see much potential with this 2018 Tigers club, though I’m definitely not excited to see Mikie Mahtook and Nicholas Castellanos take it to this Royals pitching staff again this season.

Tigers Vitals

Record 64-98, 5th Place, AL Central
Team TAv .250
Team SP DRA 5.11
Team RP DRA 6.02
Team WARP Leader Justin Verlander, 4.7
2017 Record vs. Royals 8-11

Royals vs. Tigers

Royals vs Tigers Runs

Offense

Royals vs Tigers Offense

Pitching

Royals vs Tigers Pitching

Tigers Projected Lineup

AVG OBP SLG TAv ISO
Leonys Martin .172 .232 .281 .185 -0.7
Jeimer Candelario .330 .406 .468 .288 0.5
Miguel Cabrera .249 .329 .399 .243 -1.2
Nicholas Castellanos .272 .320 .490 .267 0.9
Victor Martinez .255 .324 .372 .235 -1.2
James McCann .253 .318 .415 .251 -0.9
Mikie Mahtook .276 .330 .457 .268 1.2
Jose Iglesias .255 .288 .369 .221 0.0
Dixon Machado .259 .302 .319 .220 -0.3

Pitching Matchups

Monday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Jason Hammel 32 180.1 8 13 5.29 4.78 1.6
Francisco Liriano 38 97.0 6 7 5.66 5.39 0.1

Liriano had a rough 2017, split between the Blue Jays and Astros and ended the year as a reliever, but not a good one. No longer a tantalizing talent at 34 years old, Liriano really isn’t that far removed from being quite good. He had three straight solid seasons from 2013 to 2015 and then was excellent for Toronto after being acquired in 2016, so maybe he has something left in the tank, but it doesn’t seem all that likely to me. He’s a three-pitch pitcher really, showing a 93 mph sinker, a slider that’s still dirty and a changeup that will likely be the difference between him being successful or not. Last year, he handled lefty bats well, but righties absolutely destroyed him to the tune of .289/.392/.486 with 10 home runs. Jorge Soler, Whit Merrifield and Cheslor Cuthbert will likely need to do the damage here to get the Royals some offense against him. Paulo Orlando has actually homered against him, so maybe this would have been a better game to get him in there in place of Alex Gordon or Jon Jay, but who am I to second guess?

Hammel was scheduled to pitch in the series finale, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here. Here’s what I wrote for that one: I don’t think Hammel was quite as horrible as the numbers and he did gives some value. He provided innings at least, and he probably underpitched his peripherals a bit. The obvious issue was when the lineup turned over a third time. He allowed a .690 OPS the first time through, a .740 the second time and then a .931 the third time. I’m not sure how he plans on changing that, but either he’s going to need to or Ned Yost is going to need to have a much quicker hook with him. Hammel had a brutal spring, if you’re into that sort of thing, so I imagine the Royals have more hope than expectation for him this season. This game is supposed to be played in some cold weather, so maybe he’ll have a good start with hitting conditions so poor.

Tuesday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Jakob Junis 20 98.1 9 3 4.30 4.70 0.9
Matt Boyd 26 135.0 6 11 5.27 5.50 0.1

Boyd was one of my picks to break out last season and one of the reasons why I thought the Tigers might be able to surprise people last year, but he had a really rough season. I like his curve, and thought his changeup would get to where he needs to be. It didn’t. But he still has all the same tools, so a breakout isn’t out of the question. He has a solid four-seam fastball, that good curve and a slider and changeup. He was really good when he was sent to Triple-A and he was really good the last month of the season and he’s still just 27, so I guess you never know. One of his weird splits from last year is that the 7-9 hitters hit .297/.360/.484, which makes me wonder if he lost focus as he got to the bottom of orders. A few Royals have hit well against him, but Whit Merrifield with three extra base hits in 10 at bats stands out, as does a lefty on lefty homer from Mike Moustakas.

At this point, you all know about how I feel about Junis. He finished the year so strong and looked so good in spring training that it’s natural to have high expectations. I don’t think it’s fair to pretend like he can be a staff ace, but I think he can be a very solid pitcher for this team. If I had to guess, I’d say the top of his potential is a 3.50 ERA over 180 innings or so, but if he hits that, that’ll be really nice to see. Of course, he may need to go all nine to get a win, but that’s a different story. He didn’t fare all that well against the Tigers last year with a 6.75 ERA in three appearances, but one of those appearances that helped to balloon his numbers was before he returned to the big leagues, so I’m not sure that tells us too much.

Wednesday

G IP W L ERA DRA WARP
Danny Duffy 24 146.1 9 10 3.81 3.85 2.8
Daniel Norris 22 101.2 5 8 5.31 6.17 -0.7

I also thought Norris would break out last year, along with Boyd. He also didn’t, and was even worse than Boyd. That’s part of how they won 64 games and ended up selling at the deadline. But like Boyd, he still has talent. Norris has a big fastball and a changeup that’s been really good, so I don’t know why he doesn’t throw it more. The fastball was torched last season and the slider had its issues as well for him. Norris is even younger than Boyd, though, not turning 25 until later in April, so there’s still time for him to figure things out, as long as his health is under control. He hasn’t been terribly good against anyone, but he’s been better against right-handed bats somehow, so that probably helps with the Royals power coming mostly from the left side. If you were wondering when Alcides Escobar might have a good game, he’s hit .500/.500/.875 against Norris in 18 plate appearances.

Duffy’s first start was kind of a disaster, but it wasn’t all bad. He did a nice job early in the game before he started missing down the middle against a team that appears like they won’t miss many mistakes. As I said the other day, I’m not convinced he’s healthy, but if he is, he’s going to need to find some velocity for his fastball and find some better command because baseball in 2018 will punish you for mistakes pretty often. Duffy had one good start against Detroit and a couple rough ones last year, including in his last start of the season. He’s handled Miguel Cabrera quite well, but has been bested by Victor Martinez, in spite of the fact that I’m not sure Martinez walks without a cane these days. This start is a very interesting one for Duffy, so all eyes will be on him.


 

This isn’t exactly a heavyweight fight, but three left-handed starters in a row do seem like a bad matchup for a team that relies so much on lefty bats (which, side note, is kind of ironic given how it seemed like they badly needed a left-handed hitter when spring training started). That’s not to say that guys like Merrifield, Cuthbert and Soler can’t do damage, but they’re not the established power guys at the very least. All that said, I think the Tigers bad bullpen is a little less bad than the Royals bad bullpen and the Royals lose two of three here. I might be predicting series losses all season long, actually.

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