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Detroit Tigers Series Preview: They’ve caught...and passed the Royals

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Once a doormat, the Tigers are on a roll and look like they’ve moved pretty far ahead of the Royals.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It sort of felt like the Tigers might languish at the bottom of the American League Central forever, which is sort of a comforting thought to Royals fans actually when realizing how it feels in Kansas City right now. After winning the division in 2014 narrowly over the Royals, the Tigers descent began and it wasn’t swift or anything, but they lost 87 games in 2015, then bounced back to win 86 in 2016, but from 2017 through 2020, their best record came in at 64-98. So their rebuild started a year before the Royals, which is also encouraging, but still discouraging that they seem to be starting their ascent. They lost on May 7 to fall to 9-24. Since then, they’re 38-27 and they’ve won seven in a row. Their young pitching that looked like it might never come around seems to be starting to come around. They’re getting contributions from young players and veterans. They’re getting the surprises that well-run teams get. It’s like a switch flipped and they’re suddenly on the verge of being good again, or maybe they just are good again.

Offensively, they seem to have found some things. Jonathan Schoop turning things on has helped, but they likely won’t have him for much longer as he’s a top trade candidate because their bad start made the playoffs far too unlikely to make a push. But Akil Baddoo has been a revelation for them. Robbie Grossman has been exactly what they had hoped he’d be. Jeimer Candelario had a slow start, but he’s started to turn things around. Oh, and Eric Haase has fallen back to earth, but he’s been a really nice power threat in the middle for them. On the pitching side, the young arms have figured some things out and they’ve gotten some surprises like Wily Peralta (yes, the same Wily Peralta). The bullpen seems to have worked out some kinks, though they still have issues. This is definitely a team that has become good-adjacent and fast.

Royals vs. Tigers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Tigers
Category Royals Tigers
Winning % .415 .480
Team wRC+ 89 93
Team xFIP 4.55 4.55
Run Differential -95 -49
H2H Wins 6 7
Highest fWAR Whit Merrifield, 2.0 Robbie Grossman and 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
Akil Baddoo CF 265 .268 .343 .472 10.6% 27.5% 120 1.5
Jonathan Schoop 1B 397 .287 .327 .473 5.5% 20.7% 116 1.3
Robbie Grossman LF 409 .231 .356 .413 15.4% 23.0% 114 1.6
Miguel Cabrera DH 300 .236 .290 .337 6.3% 25.7% 73 -1.0
Jeimer Candelario 3B 370 .269 .354 .398 11.1% 23.0% 109 1.5
Eric Haase C 190 .237 .289 .537 5.8% 32.1% 120 1.1
Harold Castro 2B 192 .291 .339 .331 6.8% 22.4% 87 0.2
Zack Short SS 91 .192 .319 .425 16.5% 35.2% 102 0.4
Victor Reyes RF 94 .202 .234 .337 4.3% 26.6% 51 -0.5

Tigers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Grayson Greiner C 43 .214 .233 .310 2.3% 41.9% 45 -0.1
Willi Castro INF 284 .215 .278 .348 6.3% 26.1% 70 -0.3
Derek Hill OF 32 .269 .406 .269 15.6% 18.8% 104 0.1

Tigers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Jose Cisnero 45 41.1 1 4 28.5% 9.9% 2.83 3.65 1.1
Gregory Soto 42 40.0 4 1 28.1% 12.9% 2.70 4.05 0.7
Kyle Funkhouser 27 37.2 4 0 21.6% 9.8% 2.39 3.71 0.5

Probable Starting Pitchers

Friday - Wily Peralta vs. Kris Bubic, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Wily Peralta 7 33.0 3 1 15.9% 8.7% 1.64 4.51 0.5
Kris Bubic 16 62.2 2 4 19.3% 12.0% 5.03 5.09 -0.4

No, I don’t understand how Wily Peralta has a 1.64 ERA through 33 big league innings. The last time he was even remotely this close to effective was in 2018 with the Royals when he put up an unsustainable 3.67 ERA and saved 14 games for them. He’s putting up peripherals similar to his days in Milwaukee when he was fine as a starter, but certainly not what you’d call good. A strikeout rate that low paired with a walk rate so relatively high is something that you just can’t keep going for too long, I wouldn’t think. His velocity is way down from his peak, which is no surprise, but he’s averaging a touch under 94 on his fastball. He’s probably been pretty lucky to be effective with it. His changeup, though, has been nasty. He hasn’t allowed a hit on it in 24 at bats and has a 41.7 percent whiff rate. And his slider has been pretty good too, but nothing like the changeup. What’s weird is the changeup has been his best pitch, but he’s dominating righties with a .155/.234/.190 line allowed. Something has to give there, right? For real? At some point, his fairy tale is likely to end, but it’s hard to predict the Royals will be the ones to end it.

After giving the Royals six excellent innings after Brady Singer’s flop last weekend, Kris Bubic will get another shot in the starting rotation. It’s been a weird year for the young lefty. He came into spring training as the fifth starter, but then lost that job with a poor spring. So he went to the alternate site and came back as the mopup guy, mostly for Daniel Lynch. When he did well there, he got chances to start and was very good with three starts to end May spanning 17 innings with just 11 hits allowed and a 1.59 ERA. But then, his changeup suddenly became a pitch he had no command of and he was leaving it out over the middle of the plate for everyone to just crush. He gave up eight homers in 13 innings over three starts and then was sort of in a hybrid role. Now with the injuries, he’s back with a chance to start. It’ll be his third time facing the Tigers this year and second start with one of the outings a mopup role for Lynch. He went five shutout in that game and gave up just two over five in the start, so he’s definitely someone who has had some success against Detroit, which he can hopefully maintain.

Saturday - Casey Mize vs. Carlos Hernandez, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Casey Mize 18 99.1 5 5 19.8% 6.8% 3.44 4.24 1.0
Carlos Hernandez 13 25.2 1 1 30.5% 14.4% 4.91 4.46 0.3

Casey Mize looked overmatched last year. He was getting a few strikeouts, yes, but seven home runs in 28.1 innings is not a good look and he hit five batters to go with his 13 walks, so while his WHIP was merely bad at 1.482, he actually was allowing even more runners than that. And after a start against the Royals when he allowed six runs on seven hits and struck out just one in 4.2 innings, it looked like he might need to head to AAA for a little work. But things started turning around and since that start, he’s gone 78.2 innings over 14 starts with a 2.97 ERA while striking out 65 and walking 20. He’s allowed just 60 hits in that span as well and hasn’t given up more than three runs in any of those starts. The Tigers have been limiting his pitch count a bit with him throwing just 56, 50 and 54 pitches in his last three starts respectively, but he’s still been quite good.

Carlos Hernandez has definitely earned another start after his performance on Sunday. The numbers aren’t great, but the talent is absolutely there. He was pumping 100 in the first and sitting in the upper-90s through his four innings. It’s easy to forget how inexperienced he is due to some minor league injuries, so there will be bumps in the road, but stuff-wise, it’s hard to top what Hernandez brings to the table. And it’s so nice to see a guy who gets swings and misses on everything he throws. His worst whiff rate comes on his four-seam fastball and even that’s two whiffs on every seven swings. He can get himself in trouble with both control and command, but I’m excited to see him get some opportunities down the stretch.

Sunday - Tarik Skubal vs. Daniel Lynch, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Tarik Skubal 19 94.2 6 8 26.7% 9.3% 4.18 4.34 0.7
Daniel Lynch 3 8.0 0 2 15.2% 10.9% 15.75 5.51 0.1

The struggles of Tarik Skubal from last season and even early this year are a good opportunity to remind Royals fans that sometimes prospects take a bit to figure some things out. I personally think Skubal is the best arm of the Tigers young pitchers and he just got hit hard last season. He hasn’t been great this year by any stretch, still allowing 19 homers in 94.2 innings, but he’s been pretty good and he’s shown that he can get swings and misses. He has a good fastball, but his slider and changeup have been the big time swing and miss pitches for him with whiff rates of 36.2 percent and 50 percent respectively. His fastball has actually been pretty hittable this season with opponents hitting .293 with a .573 SLG against it, so that’s what the Royals need to be attacking. I’m curious as to his home/road splits because he has a 3.50 ERA at home and a 5.45 ERA on the road and it’s really been all power that he’s allowed, which doesn’t make the Royals a great candidate to take advantage of that. He did give up two home runs in Kauffman Stadium earlier this year and the Royals have hit him okay, so maybe they have a shot here. I’m not counting on it, but maybe.

I thought it would be Mike Minor on regular rest, but the Royals have announced they’ll bring up Daniel Lynch to make this start. After a slightly rocky debut in his first three starts, Lynch was sent to Omaha and got his first minor league action above A-ball. It was up and down as far as results. He had a 5.84 ERA, but did carry a 24.1 percent strikeout rate with a solid walk rate of 7 percent. His last couple starts seem to have been a turning point for him as he’s repeated his delivery better. Still, as good as he looked in his last start, he stumbled in the sixth inning. Maybe the Royals aren’t expecting more than four from him and they can get him on track as a big leaguer after that rough debut, so we’ll see. He did face the Tigers in his last big league outing and gave up four runs on seven hits in 2.2 innings. The upside in that start is he struck out four and didn’t walk anyone.

Prediction

The Royals are bad. The Tigers may still be sort of bad, but they’re also sort of good or at least on the road there. I’m going to be stupid and predict the Royals win one of the three.

Poll

How many games do the Royals take from the red hot Tigers?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    All three; the Tigers will be tamed.
    (14 votes)
  • 22%
    The Royals will take two of three.
    (36 votes)
  • 44%
    The Royals will get one, which is better than none.
    (72 votes)
  • 25%
    They will not win a game. The Tigers winning streak will reach 10.
    (41 votes)
163 votes total Vote Now