We’re changing things up today and looking at a negative factor in the World Series run that probably should’ve kept the Royals out of the postseason in 2014 – and if it continues into this year, probably will in 2015. The Royals' kryptonite in 2014: the Detroit Tigers.
Why it (didn’t) work last year
All season long, the Detroit Tigers were the thorn in the Royals’ paw. With the exception of a few glorious weeks here and there, the Royals were looking up at the Tigers in the standings. When the two teams met head-to-head, it was clear who the top dog cat in the AL Central was. The Royals would go 6-13 against the Tigers in 2014.
That record looks impressively bad in the context of the AL Central race. The Royals only ended up one game behind the Tigers. That means that, had the Royals won just one more of those games against Detroit, they would have won the AL Central. A 7-12 record against the Tigers would still look bad, but it would’ve been enough to win the division.
But I guess the Wild Card game was an okay consolation prize.
It’s worth pointing out that the Royals actually won the season series with the Tigers in 2013, 10-9. So what went wrong?
The Royals could have just hit the Tigers at the wrong time and gotten unlucky. But it’s more likely the Tigers simply matched up too well. Their overpowering rotation held the Royals in check long enough that they didn’t have to worry about their volatile bullpen. An effective offense – one of the best in the league – meant they could get ahead and not have to worry about our bullpen.
In 2014, the Royals gave up more runs to the Tigers than any other team (100). They also scored less runs on the Tigers than any other division opponent (66). This is partially because the Tigers were superior to the rest of the AL Central. But not by much. The Twins managed to score 119 runs on the Tigers. That’s the most runs any team scored on any other team. And yes, that includes the Dodgers beating up on the Rockies and Diamondbacks.
Of course, Minnesota has a good offense. It’s their defense that’s a problem. They must have given up a lot of runs to the Tigers and—oh, look, they only gave up two more than the Royals did.
The Royals had better figure out why the Tigers are their kryptonite, or the 2015 AL Central race will not be fun.
Why it won’t work this year
If the Royals were to repeat their record against the Tigers this season, there is no way they would be close to even sniffing the playoffs. The rest of the teams in the AL Central have made significant upgrades, meaning it will be tougher to win games within the division. "Everyone will improve!" describes the AL Central more than it does the Royals’ roster.
To compensate for the extra losses the Royals can expect against the likes of Cleveland, Chicago, and Minnesota, they need to steal some wins back from the Tigers.
One of the strengths of the Tigers – their offense – arguably improved over the offseason. A blockbuster deal sent starter Rick Porcello to the Red Sox in exchange for home run derby slaughterer Yoenis Cespedes. Shortstop Jose Iglesias will return from injury, though his glove is more impressive than his bat.
The Tigers’ lineup will feature a veritable murderer’s row of hitters. At least, that’s the intent. Opposing pitchers will have to traverse a minefield that includes Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Nick Castellanos, and noted hater of Royals of J.D. Martinez. The rest of the lineup, filled out with Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Alex Avila, and Iglesias, doesn’t figure to be too bad either.
Historically, the young pitchers the Royals will rely on to get through these games – Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy – have actually fared okay against the Tigers. (Duffy’s 0-3 record against Detroit last year is more indicative of bad luck than anything else). Unfortunately, Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas balance out the rotation by apparently running away and hiding when the Tigers step into the box.
I suppose there’s a reason you never see either eating Frosted Flakes.
How the Royals can save the season
There is some good news. The Tigers lost Max Scherzer to the Nationals and Porcello to the Red Sox. Their replacements are Shane Green and Alfredo Simon, neither of which figures to be as effective as their predecessors.
If Justin Verlander and David Price continue to stymie the Royals, maybe they can muster some offense against the new Tigers. The Royals scored just 3.47 runs per game against the Tigers last year, which simply isn’t enough to beat them.
But if the runs don’t come against the starters, the Royals will need to make sure the Tigers’ bullpen makes appearances as often as possible. Detroit continued to turn a blind eye to their glaring weakness this offseason, making no effective moves to shore up their incredibly leaky bullpen.
Anything can happen in the 19 times the Royals and Tigers will meet this season. A team could get on a hot streak, or see their bats fall silent. Regardless, the season will be more enjoyable if we see less of this:
And more of this: