Its only May, but does this constitute a BIG GAME?
The Royals open up a home three-game set with the Tigers just two games back of first place Detroit. A really bad weekend puts the Royals five games back, a tough hole to dig out of. A terrific weekend catapults the Royals into first place, which would be the latest point in the season the Royals have been in first place since 2009 (18-11! NEVER FORGET!). At the very least, the Royals need to hold serve by taking two of three and staying within a game of the Tigers. With Justin Verlander pitching on Sunday, and with Danny Duffy a bit of a question mark on Saturday, tonight represents a must-win in the series for the Royals.
If it is a "must-win" game, then it helps to have a pitcher tonight named BIG GAME JAMES. Shields will go tonight, and while most of the attention in the rotation has been given to rookie phenom Yordano Ventura and even the surprising BABIP-blessed start of Jason Vargas, James has quietly put together another terrific start to the year. The free-agent-to-be has a 2.03 ERA over his first six starts with just over a strikeout per inning. He is fourth in the league in ERA, seventh in innings pitched and sixth in strikeouts. His unearned runs from this awful second inning skew his numbers a bit, but James has a solid 3.27 FIP, good for a 0.9 fWAR so far this year. Someone is in line for a big pay day this winter!
Rick Porcello has gotten off to a strong start this year by not walking anyone. He has just four walks issued this year in 25 innings of work, the second best walk-per-9 innings in the league if he could qualify. I am confident the Royals will be patient and work the count tonight! Porcello still does not strike out very many hitters, instead relying on his defense which although improved this year, is still among the worst defenses, thanks to injuries to shortstop Jose Iglesias and outfielder Andy Dirks.
Still a work in progress.
Miguel Cabrera is a James Shields-killer (.419/.428/.721 in 47 PAs), and much of the lineup save for Victor Martinez (.676 career OPS) has done pretty well against Big Game James in their career. On the flip side, Alex Gordon has fared well against Rick Porcello (.355/.375/.613 in 32 PAs) and Eric Hosmer has two home runs in 16 PAs, while Billy Butler has hit for average (.310) but little in terms of walks or power (1 walk, a .381 SLG) against the right-hander.
Eric Hosmer is just six at-bats short of tying a career high in most consecutive at-bats without a home run. He went 143 at-bats between home runs from September 12, 2012 to May 8, 2013. Hosmer last homered on September 22 of last year. Can it happen tonight? Do you believe in miracles?