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Detroit Tigers Series Preview: A bottom of the division battle for the ages

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Winning this series would be purr-fect.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers
Apr 16, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matthew Boyd (48) pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals pack their bags and head to Detroit for their second trip of the season to face the Tigers before the Tigers have even visited Kansas City. Very rude. After getting swept in Detroit last month, the Tigers have a bit of a different look to them, but are still hanging roughly around .500 because of quality pitching that is probably a bit surprising. It’s definitely not their offense keeping them in the middle of the pack as they rank in the bottom third of the league in pretty much every category and they’re without one of their best producers, Chrsitin Stewart, who is out for at least a couple more weeks. Of course, a boost to the offense might have arrived with Josh Harrison going on the IL. He’s been worse than Chris Owings. My guess is the pitching drops off at some point and the offense probably doesn’t get much better, so things will likely end ugly in Motown, but they’ve had a decent start at least to enjoy for the timebeing.

Meet the Tigers

Tigers vs. Royals Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Tigers
Category Royals Tigers
Winning % .344 .464
Team wRC+ 94 83
Team xFIP 4.68 4.32
2019 H2H Wins 0 3
Highest fWAR Hunter Dozier, 1.8 Matthew Boyd, 1.6

Tigers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Jeimer Candelario 3B 119 .233 .336 .311 12.6% 26.9% 80 0.3
Nicholas Castellanos RF 114 .269 .325 .442 7.9% 28.9% 104 0.3
Miguel Cabrera DH 122 .278 .352 .352 9.8% 27.0% 95 0.0
Niko Goodrum LF 103 .247 .369 .447 16.5% 21.4% 122 0.6
Brandon Dixon 1B 19 .333 .368 .444 5.3% 36.8% 121 0.0
Ronny Rodriguez 2B 37 .303 .351 .667 8.1% 24.3% 161 0.5
Grayson Greiner C 77 .222 .273 .375 5.2% 28.6% 73 0.2
Jordy Mercer SS 55 .240 .309 .380 7.3% 21.8% 82 0.2
JaCoby Jones CF 60 .145 .217 .218 3.3% 35.0% 19 -0.6

Tigers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
John Hicks C/1B 58 .302 .362 .453 8.6% 24.1% 121 0.2
Gordon Beckham INF 47 .220 .319 .512 10.6% 38.3% 120 0.2
Harold Castro INF 2 .500 .500 .500 0.0% 0.0% 180 0.0
Victor Reyes OF 1 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.0% 0.0% 476 0.0

Tigers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Shane Greene 14 14.0 0 1 32.7% 5.8% 1.29 3.00 0.6
Joe Jimenez 13 11.1 1 1 34.0% 12.0% 4.76 3.54 0.0
Buck Farmer 13 11.1 1 2 27.1% 10.4% 3.97 3.39 0.3

Projected Pitching Matchups

Friday May 3rd - 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jorge Lopez 6 33.2 0 2 21.1% 8.2% 5.08 4.46 0.0
Matthew Boyd 6 37.1 2 2 31.8% 6.6% 3.13 3.26 1.6

Matthew Boyd has flashed potential before, but not quite like this in the past. And yes, it’s only six starts, but it sure looks like he’s put it all together for the Tigers. He sort of famously has revamped his slider and it is beastly now. He has a 50 percent whiff rate, 33.3 percent putaway rate adn has allowed a .188 average and .313 slugging percentage with 10 strikeouts on it so far this season. His slider was great last season too, but it’s on another level in terms of swing and miss this year. Even crazier is the swing and miss on his fastball with a 39.5 percent whiff rate (17.8 percent last year) and 39.1 percent putaway rate (16.4 percent last year). He’s been hell on lefties with a .154/.241/.192 line allowed. Oh and while most pitchers get worse as the game goes on, he’s allowed a .108/.195/.216 line the third time through the order. Yes, small sample and that’ll probably go up, but that’s very impressive.

For Jorge Lopez, he’s coming off a rough one where he was given six runs in the bottom of the third and then couldn’t get out of the top of the fourth against the Angels. That’s not a great look for a guy trying to find footing in a starting rotation for the long-term. Of course, you know my thoughts on that. His curveball can be so good and his fastball also looks so good at times that a pass against this Tigers lineup is one that can make a guy like Lopez look really good if he’s on, but it’s also really telling if he’s not and he struggles against a rough lineup. And just to keep you updated, here’s his times through the order update:

1st time: .188/.278/.292

2nd time: .271/.352/.542

3rd time: .406/.429/.875

Saturday May 4th - 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Homer Bailey 6 30.0 2 3 24.2% 8.9% 5.70 4.02 0.7
Tyson Ross 5 29.0 1 3 17.7% 9.7% 4.03 4.32 0.3

Tyson Ross returns from the paternity list to make this start. He’s been a pretty successful reclamation signing for the Tigers to this point, but he’s overperformed a bit on his ERA given that he’s not striking many hitters, has walked too many and hasn’t been all that tough to hit. Still, 29 innings of a 4.03 ERA is worth applause even if there is a bit of a slip coming. He has been up and down to this point with some solid starts, including a great one against the Royals in early April and some less than, such as against the Red Sox in his last start when he gave up four runs on seven hits in five innings. He used to be a hard thrower with some ridiculous movement, but now he lives in the upper-80s with his fastballs and his slider has been essentially useless this year with just a 9.1 percent whiff rate. Ultimately, like mentioned above, this story probably ends poorly, but his slider was deadly against the Royals a month ago, so maybe he can recreate that in this one.

Homer Bailey at least finished strong in his last start after starting poorly. He ended up going six innings and gave up four runs, which is pretty much what you’re okay with when he starts, i woudl think. He didn’t walk anybody, which was a nice turnaround from his previous start when he couldn’t throw a strike basically and didn’t get out of the second inning. His splitter has been deadly at times, but not so good of late. If it’s on, he has a chance to dominate this Tigers lineup, but if not, their solid hitters are going to have a field day because they have just enough that if he’s leaving balls out over the plate, they’ll do damage.

Sunday May 5th - 12:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Brad Keller 7 42.0 2 3 16.7% 12.8% 4.07 5.12 0.4
Spencer Turnbull 6 32.0 2 2 22.6% 9.5% 2.53 4.50 0.7

Spencer Turnbull has been a fantastic story for the Tigers. He finally made it to AAA last season and made just two starts and then made the team out of spring training, mostly because of how thin the Tigers were in the rotation with the Michael Fulmer injury. He’s gotten strikeouts, limited hits, done well enough with walks and has given a few innings for this rotation. He doesn’t throw all that hard, but he has a good spin rate and that allows him to get some weak contact. His four-seamer hasn’t been great for him, but he’s made up for it quite well with a quality sinker and a cutter that’s been murder on opponents. He struck out 10 Royals back on April 4th, and has been really quite excellent in almost all his start since then, so I guess we’ll see if he can keep it up in this one.

Brad Keller is just walking too many hitters. He’s limited hits incredibly well this season, but since walking just one on Opening Day, he’s walked at least three hitters every game this season. Now, he’s been successful at times, but his pitch count is too elevated because of the control issues and he’s not even getting a bunch of swings and misses as a result of leaving the strike zone. Whatever he’s doing simply isn’t working and he needs to make an adjustment or he might go back into the future reliever category among current Royals pitchers. Not to keep harping on this, but the Tigers lineup might be the fix he needs. And if it isn’t, that says something about him, I believe. The Rays have a good and patient lineup and that’s led to a 7.94 ERA for Keller in his last two starts that were both against them, but he needs to turn it around and fast. He did go six against the Tigers last month and gave up three runs on five hits with three strikeouts and three walks, but even that is pretty lackluster.

Prediction

Two bad teams tussling under the dim lights of Detroit should be enough to get anyone excited. How this series turns out likely depends fully on which Homer Bailey the Royals get, and he did look better over his last few innings against the Rays the other day. I’m going to go optimistic on this one and say the Royals snag two of three. What say you?

Poll

Who do you have in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Royals Sweep
    (12 votes)
  • 13%
    Tigers Sweep
    (12 votes)
  • 40%
    Royals Win Two of Three
    (35 votes)
  • 32%
    Tigers Win Two of Three
    (28 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now