The Royals and Tigers were expected to battle to the wire for the American League Central Division, but on September 15, the Tigers were mathematically eliminated from winning the division title. The team is now officially out of any post-season contention and sit in the cellar of the Central, 18.5 games back of the Royals. Since May 1, no American League team has lost more games than the Detroit Tigers. With rumors that manager Brad Ausmus will soon be fired,the Tigers are likely going through the motions with an eye towards the future.
The Tigers offense has failed to gel this year and they are just ninth in the league in runs scored with 4.3 per game. Since the end of July, when they traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and waved the white flag, they have scored just 4.0 runs per game. Slugger Miguel Cabrera was on a tear upon returning from his calf injury, but has since cooled down and is mired in a 4-for-38 slump. Omar Infante had more RBI last night than Miggy has in his last 20 games.
Detroit will be without shortstop Jose Iglesias, who is out with a finger injury and could miss the rest of the season. Outfielder J.D. Martinez has been a bright spot for the Tigers and is fifth in the league in home runs, although he is hitting just .160/.276/.220 with no home runs against the Royals this year.
The Tigers are one of the worst-baserunning teams in baseball with a miserable stolen base rate of 63%. They improved their defense considerably this year, although the loss of Iglesias will hurt the infield, and third baseman Nick Castellanos continues to be a major liability.
Justin Verlander has pitched well down the stretch, with a 2.13 ERA over his last ten starts. His velocity has suffered a drop this year, although in his last start against the Royals he was able to hum it back in the upper 90s. The Royals finally seemed to figure out soft-tossing lefty Matt Boyd the last time they faced him, tagging him for six runs in one inning. Alfredo Simon seems to either be excellent or awful this season. In ten starts he has given up two runs or less, but in ten starts he has given up five runs or more. He has the third-worst strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball and gave up six runs in less than five innings in his only start against the Royals this year.
Note Saturday's game is nationally televised on Fox Sports One with Aaron Goldsmith and Tom Verducci.
The Tigers bullpen issues have been well documented this year. They are dead last in the league in bullpen ERA at 4.58 with by far the worst strikeout-to-walk ratio. Bruce Rondon has assumed closing duties, but has converted just five-of-eight save opportunities, giving up ten runs over his last 11.1 innings. Command is his issue, as he has issued nearly six walks per-nine-innings. Right-hander Alex Wilson has performed well this year, although he has a low strikeout rate and his FIP is far above his 2.13 ERA. Former Royals farmhand Blaine Hardy has been a pleasant surprise with a 2.81 ERA and 8.1 strikeouts per-nine-innings.
The Tigers have dropped 17 of their last 25, including two of three in Kansas City a few weeks ago when the Royals were reeling. They are a team beaten down by a frustrating season, but they also have nothing to lose at this point. With the pressure of a pennant race off, they could play loose and with the talent still on the roster, still pose a threat in this series. The Royals have taken 9 of 16 from the Tigers this year. A good series this weekend can inch them even closer to their first Central Division title.