If you haven't noticed by now, the Royals are engaged in a pennant race and have done their best to fend off the Detroit Tigers, long thought to be the favorites for the division. With the two teams engaging in a crucial three-game head-to-head series in Detroit starting today, I checked in with Rob Rogacki at Bless You Boys to get his take on the Tigers and how this season has gone so far.
Royals Review: The Tigers were thought to be the favorites for the Central Division, maybe even the pennant. Why have they struggled as much as they have?
Bless You Boys: The 2014 season has been one of the most frustrating and puzzling seasons I've ever experienced as a Tigers fan. They have looked like world beaters at times, ripping off 27-12 and 17-6 stretches in the first half. The second half has been much more consistent, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. They are 25-27 since the All-Star break, and haven't won or lost more than three games in a row during that span.
The cramped scheduled hasn't helped -- they have played 52 games in 52 days since the break -- but bad pitching and worse defense have been bigger factors. Their vaunted rotation has been decidedly mediocre, and a half run difference between their ERA and FIP shows that they haven't gotten any help from their fielders behind them. They rank among the worst teams in the AL in any defensive metric you choose, but I prefer this one: their outfield defense has been over 90 runs worse than the Royals', according to defensive runs saved (DRS).
Royals Review: What should we expect from Justin Verlander at this point?
Bless you Boys: It's anyone's guess as to what Verlander is going to do, but he has been better as of late. His last start wasn't as bad as the final line indicates, and he had a 4.04 ERA in the second half prior to that start. His FIP has improved from 4.01 in the first half to 3.62 in the second, and seems to be fully healed from the minor shoulder issue that shelved him for a couple of weeks in August. Tigers fans would sure love to see vintage Verlander this week, but the Royals have handled him with ease in 2014.
Royals Review: How has Brad Ausmus been as a first-year manager?
Bless you Boys: It's tough to judge a manager's overall performance when we see so little of his interaction with the players in the clubhouse, but Ausmus' in-game decision making has been questionable at best. Thought by many to be a saber-friendly savant when he was hired, Ausmus has been every bit as old school as Jim Leyland, Ned Yost, and any other member of the managerial "old guard" that you can think of. His decision to pinch hit Ezequiel Carrera -- he of the career .644 OPS -- in a one run game instead of any number of power bats (inexperienced as they may be) on the bench in a game this weekend was just the latest in a line of puzzling decisions by the new skipper.
Royals Review: The Tigers will win this series from the Royals if.....________?
Bless You Boys: Simply put, they need to pitch better. A lot of the blame for the Tigers' struggles has been attributed to the offense, but they rank first in the American League in nearly every meaningful offensive statistic. Meanwhile, their team ERA is 4.04, a brutal number when you think about the names in their starting rotation. The rotation can be dominant at times, but has allowed runs in bunches at points this season as well. In fact, the only Tigers starter to not allow five runs in a start over the past two weeks is rookie Kyle Lobstein.
Royals Review: The Tigers will lose this series from the Royals if....._________?
Bless You Boys: Bad pitching, bad baserunning, bad defense, you name it. Basically, think of everything that the Royals are good at. The Tigers are horrible at those things, and have shown it numerous times this year. If the Royals can get men on base and put pressure on the Tigers' defense, they should be able to keep rolling.
Special thanks tor Rob Rogacki at Bless You Boys for his cooperation.