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Detroit Tigers series preview: Battle for Central supremacy

The first showdown between powers of the AL Central, past and present

Jordan Zimmermann as he gets out of bed in the morning.
Jordan Zimmermann as he gets out of bed in the morning.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After four years of dominating the American League Central, the Detroit Tigers suffered injuries and the adverse effects of aging that undid them last year, leading to a fire sale in the year in which the control of the Central had been wrested from their grasp by the upstart Kansas City Royals. With the Little Caesar's bankrolled Tigers reloaded in the offseason, the first three-game clash between the two presumed powers in the division starts this evening.

The Royals miss both Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez in this series while sending out their best three starting pitchers to face the potent wood of the Detroit Tigers' lineup.

*All stats forthcoming courtesy of FanGraphs

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Tuesday

Shane Greene 18 83.2 50 27 6.88 5.14 4.76 4.82
Yordano Ventura 28 163.1 156 58 4.08 3.57 3.60 3.69

*2015 stats

In one start and one relief appearance totaling seven innings, Greene has already been worth 0.1 fWAR more than the 0.1 fWAR he was worth last year. Greene's breaking ball(s?) bled into one another - manipulating the pitch(es) to render distinction between the cutter and slider pointless and leading one to believe that he's throwing a hybrid pitch that he's manipulating in varying ways - in his first start this season, leading to results much more in line with his success as a Yankee in 2014 than last year's, when he suffered from numbness in his fingertips as a result of a pseudoaneurysm in the circumflex artery in his throwing shoulder. Shockingly, not being able to feel your fingertips leads to a campaign like his 2015 campaign.

That he got by only throwing his fastball (both a two- and four-seamer) and hybrid cutter/slider may or may not make it easier for the Royals to key on his pitches, though it seems that he can bend his cutter/slider to his will. It should be noted that while he hasn't thrown it yet this season, he also could mix in a change-up that he threw last year, though that may have been out of desperation more than anything else. Viewing a Greene start as a gimme win looks to be a thing of the past.

Thus far this season, Ventura has struggled with walks, particularly against the Minnesota Twins in his first start of the season in which he allowed just two hits and struck out six but only made it five innings on account of the six free passes he issued. His start in Houston marked an improvement in this area, as he walked just three in six innings. His 12:9 K:BB in 11.0 IP doesn't look great, but he has only allowed six hits so far, so the damage has been limited to a 2.45 ERA despite a 4.58 FIP, 4.91 xFIP, and 5.17 SIERA.

Game Two - Wednesday

Jordan Zimmermann 33 201.2 164 39 3.66 3.75 3.82 3.83
Ian Kennedy 30 168.1 174 52 4.28 4.51 3.70 3.61

*2015 stats

Each team's big offseason acquisition takes the mound in the second game of the series. Both have enjoyed massive early success, with Kennedy's 0.66 ERA over 13.2 IP being the worst mark of the two starters. That Zimmermann has yet to allow an earned run in his 13.0 IP doesn't necessarily mean that he's been better than Kennedy. The 70 Million Dollar Man has struck out 14 and walked three en route to a 2.68 FIP, 3.62 xFIP, 3.23 SIERA, all of which are superior to Zimmermann's seven strikeouts, five walks, 3.20 FIP, 5.18 xFIP, and 5.23 SIERA.

Smart money is on this match-up being the marquee one of the series. $180MM was spent this past offseason on these guys. See if David Glass and Mike Ilitch got their money's worth.

Game Three - Thursday

Mike Pelfrey 30 164.2 86 45 4.26 4.00 4.45 4.59
Edinson Volquez 33 200.1 155 72 3.55 3.82 4.26 4.35

*2015 stats

Pelfrey's two starts this season have not been particularly good. In his first, he lasted just 3.2 IP at home against the Yankees, allowing eight hits, one walk, and six earned runs while striking out just three. In his second start, he yielded just one run but walked six and allowed five hits while striking out just three over six innings of work. Pelfrey's 2016 6.52 ERA, 5.40 FIP, 5.15 xFIP, and 5.41 SIERA all point to less than sterling early returns for Detroit with their other offseason rotation addition.

Pelfrey's opposing pitcher has picked up where he left off in the 2015 postseason, looking like the World Champion Royals' de facto ace. In three starts and 17.2 innings of work, Volquez has struck out 17 while walking seven. He sports a 2.04 ERA, 3.12 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, and 3.76 SIERA and appears early on to be giving the Royals a solid return on their two-year investment.

Detroit's bats

These are the Tigers bats not on the disabled list. Eventually they will get the services of James McCann and Cameron Maybin (and pitcher Daniel Norris) back.

Ian Kinsler 2B 53 4 11 10 1 .340 .358 .600 .407 174
Justin Upton LF 51 1 6 2 0 .240 .255 .360 .297 70
Miguel Cabrera 1B 49 1 7 4 0 .262 .367 .381 .322 111
Victor Martinez (S) DH 34 2 4 7 0 .267 .353 .567 .393 163
J.D. Martinez RF 49 2 7 6 0 .372 .429 .581 .431 191
Nick Castellanos 3B 43 2 7 8 0 .357 .349 .571 .391 161
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S) C 28 4 4 11 0 .269 .321 .808 .469 219
Anthony Gose (L) CF 36 1 4 2 0 .219 .306 .313 .282 81
Jose Iglesias SS 40 0 6 1 1 .324 .425 .353 .356 136
Bobby Wilson C 4 0 0 1 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 -100
Tyler Collins (L) OF 8 0 0 1 0 .250 .250 .375 .268 71
Andrew Romine (S) 2B/SS 6 0 0 0 0 .200 .333 .200 .262 66
Mike Aviles 3B/SS 6 0 1 0 0 .250 .400 .250 .321 110

Unlike the last series with the Oakland Athletics in which any lineup seemed possible, the Tigers will most likely field the starting lineup above in each of the night games. With the struggling James McCann on the disabled list, it is possible Bobby Wilson gets a game at catcher. Anthony Gose and Justin Upton find themselves with sub-100 wRC+ (meaning they're both producing at below-league-average levels). For the standards of production expected of him, Miguel Cabrera has yet to really get it going, though the season is admittedly in its early goings.

Each game in the series will start at the odd hour of 6:15 CDT despite being in Kansas City. Unlike when Cleveland did the same thing to cater to their future Halifagian fans, the Royals are clearly making a play for a larger fanbase in the Eastern Time Zone. As World Champs, the world is their oyster.

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