With the big series looming between the Royals and Tigers, I decided to have a chat with Rob Rogacki, the editor of Bless You Boys, our Tigers counterpart on SB Nation, about the two teams. Let's just hope the two of us don't end up brawling.
Max Rieper  The Tigers and Royals are both off to tremendous starts. The hot start has surprised us a bit, but what about you guys? Did you think this Tigers team had a chance to be this good?
Rob Rogacki  Yes and no. I don’t think anyone projects their team to win 70 percent of their games for any prolonged stretch of the season, but there was a sentiment among Tigers fans that this team was better than the national media projected. The drop-off in the rotation was steep, but a lot of fans were optimistic about the offense’s depth and versatility, something we have seem come to light through the first 20 games of the season.
Rob Rogacki[1:24 PM]The Tigers currently lead the league in stolen bases and rank second in slugging percentage, a deadly combination. They have struggled to score runs at times — they did face a gauntlet of excellent starting pitching through one stretch — but have otherwise been tough to stop from 1 to 9.
Rob Rogacki[1:25 PM]The Royals have had a similar offensive boon to start the year, and rank just behind the Tigers in both categories I just mentioned. This is largely the same team that failed to crack triple digits in the home run column last season. Is this going to continue?
Max Rieper  Haha, no.
Max Rieper[1:28 PM]But the good thing is they are likely to be an improvement on last year's offense, which was ninth in the league in runs scored, and as you mention, DEAD LAST in home runs (and walks). Lorenzo Cain looks good. Kendrys Morales looks good. Alex Gordon is coming around after nursing a wrist injury to start the year. And Mike Moustakas looks like a totally different hitter. That's been the big story in Kansas City this year. Mike Moustakas has gone from being the most dreadful hitter in the lineup to a potential All-Star, all by taking a different approach to the plate and trying to hit the ball the other way to beat radical defensive shifts.
Max Rieper[1:29 PM]I don't think they can match the Tigers offensive firepower, but the hope is the defense and bullpen can make up that difference. The problem is, Detroit's defense seems to have improved considerably. Do they look better to you? And how concerning is the bullpen to you at this point? It seems to be what held Detroit back from a potential pennant last year.
Rob Rogacki  The defense has been WORLDS better than last season, and the biggest difference isn’t even a new acquisition. We already knew that Jose Iglesias was an incredible defender, but he seems to have found another gear now that he is finally healthy after missing all of 2014 with stress fractures in his shins. He and Ian Kinsler have formed one of the best double play combos in baseball, and one that is drawing comparisons to should-be Hall of Famers Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker (defensively, at least).
Rob Rogacki[1:34 PM]Nick Castellanos has also taken major strides forward after being the worst defensive third baseman in baseball last year. He’s no Moustakas with the leather, but he looks like a league average third baseman, which is far better than what the Tigers got from him last year. Yoenis Cespedes has shown off some nice range in the outfield as well.
Max Rieper  Torii Hunter would seem to be addition by subtraction defensively too I bet.
Rob Rogacki  Ironically, he has made a couple of stellar defensive plays against the Tigers already this year.
Max Rieper  I think we dodged a bullet not landing him.
Rob Rogacki  He’s hitting close to the Mendoza line, though.
Rob Rogacki[1:35 PM]The bullpen, on the other hand, is still a concern. Royals fans are very familiar with how stress-free Joakim Soria made the ninth inning feel, but everything leading up to him seems to be in free-fall. The Tigers have gotten by with Joba Chamberlain as their setup man, but he has not looked sharp at all.
Rob Rogacki[1:37 PM]It’s essentially a mirror opposite of the Royals’ bullpen, which has somehow been even more dominant than they were last season. The rotation, on the other hand, is missing one James Shields. Have the other starters been able to pick up the slack so far?
Max Rieper [ ] The Royals starting pitching has actually not pitched particularly well. That shouldn't be a big surprise, they were actually kind of mediocre last year, and they lose Shields, as you point out. His replacement, Edinson Volquez has actually pitched quite well - much better than expected - due to much better command this year than over the course of his career. I don't know if that can continue, but if it can, then pitching coach Dave Eiland should get some sort of statue in his honor.
Max Rieper[1:40 PM]The club was hoping Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy could improve enough to mitigate the loss of Shields. Ventura has had spurts of brilliance, but has, of course, had his troubles staying composed and not ejected from ballgames.
Rob Rogacki  Yeah, we’ll get to Ventura in a bit
Max Rieper  It will be interesting to see how the Royals respond this weekend to what will be a big series what with all the commotion around the team the last few weeks. The club is expecting large crowds at Kauffman Stadium all weekend. Do you think the Tigers will treat this as a big series, or is it too early for that?
Rob Rogacki  I think it’s a bit too early for that, but they also don’t necessarily have the chance to shuffle anything (like the rotation) based on matchups.
Rob Rogacki[1:43 PM]The Tigers played very well against the Royals last year, and have responded extremely well to the division-heavy schedule in April. They are currently 12-3 against the AL Central, with seven more games against divisional foes left on their current road trip.
Max Rieper  Yea, what's up with MLB stacking all the Central opponents against each other early? I'm already tired of the White Sox.
Rob Rogacki  The Tigers will have finished two series against the Indians and Twins by the time they arrive in Kansas City, though given how they have played so far, I can’t necessarily say I’m "sick" of seeing either team
Rob Rogacki[1:46 PM]They had a lot of trouble with Minnesota last year, but have handled them quite easily to start the year.
Max Rieper  Well you haven't been in a fight with Jeff Samardzija.
Max Rieper[1:46 PM]I feel for Twins fans. They don't deserve a defense that awful.
Rob Rogacki  True. I guess we can’t avoid it now: what’s up with all of these fights the Royals are getting into?
Max Rieper  I don't know that there is one cause. The club has been hit a lot by pitches this year - most of them unintentional in my opinion, although Jeff Samardzija clearly plunked Lorenzo Cain on purpose on Opening Day. But I think all the plunkings have irked them. The Royals are demonstrative on the field with hand gestures and celebrations, which may violate the "unwritten rules" of baseball and the delicate sensibilities of some players around the league.
Max Rieper[1:51 PM]I'm still not really sure what the Yordano Ventura/Mike Trout dust-up was about. The confrontation with the A's was clearly a retaliatory measure for the hard slide Brett Lawrie had on Alcides Escobar - I'm fairly confident most other teams would have responded in a very similar fashion. In the White Sox game, Adam Eaton and Yordano Ventura had words, but both were nowhere near the fight when the benches emptied. It seemed like Samardzija was itching for a fight and I really have no earthly idea why.
Max Rieper[1:52 PM]It looks bad that Yordano Ventura has been in the middle of a lot of these, but I don't think he's the villain some in the national media have made him out to be. Sure, he could be more mature and handle things better, but he's a 24 year old kid. That being said, the Tigers may want to avoid pitching too far inside on the Royals.
Rob Rogacki  I have to admit, the picture of Trout and Salvador Perez towering over Ventura during that dust-up is a bit comical
Max Rieper [Yea, Yordano is totally the guy in the fight who stirs things up, then asks someone to hold him back. He's about 165 pounds dripping wet. No way he's taking on Trout by himself.]
ax Rieper[1:53 PM]
Rob Rogacki  Are you worried that opposing teams will start to use this to their advantage? Whether Ventura is at fault or not, it seems that he can be provoked
Max Rieper  Absolutely. I think teams know they can get under his skin now and rattle him. After the White Sox melee, he did say he knew his actions were hurting the team and would look to grow up a bit. The problem is his mentor is supposed to be Edinson Volquez, who just got suspended five games for throwing a haymaker (and missing....hey, he's always had trouble missing his spots!).
Rob Rogacki  Ha
Max Rieper  In any event, I'm ready to get back to baseball and avoid the silly retaliation stuff. Looking forward to a great series this weekend with the Tigers, and it will be great to see them in the spotlight on national television....oh you have to be kidding me.
Rob Rogacki  Hey, we’ll be on ESPN next weekend in Detroit!
Max Rieper  True enough. Thanks for chatting Rob.
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