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Detroit Tigers Series Preview: It’s sort of like looking into a mirror

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Dueling rebuilds collide in this matchup between two teams that are looking to emerge from the basement in coming seasons.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this year when the Royals faced the Detroit Tigers after the break, times weren’t great. While the Royals had just swept the Brewers in Milwaukee, they were still 16 games under .500 and the Tigers appeared to be making some moves with their young pitching and their bats had come alive. It appeared that the Tigers’ rebuild had far surpassed the Royals. Since the end of that Brewers series, though, the Royals seem to have maybe picked up steam of their own on their rebuild. They’ve gone 30-28 and done it largely with their young pitching making almost every start. The Tigers had climbed to four games under .500 before that series, but from the start of the Royals sweeping them until now, they’re 27-27. They’ve been doing well for longer than the Royals, starting 9-24 and going 65-54 since, but it does appear that these two ships are converging once again. I think the futures are bright for both organizations. It seems likely that the Tigers will finish ahead of the Royals, but four of the first five series between these two teams this year have ended in a sweep, so if the Royals can sweep them again, it’ll at least make it a race for third place.

It’s easy to look at the Tigers offense and see a bad unit. They’re bottom third in runs scored, home runs, walks, strikeouts, doubles, on base percentage and slugging percentage. But they’ve been a pretty good offense for awhile now, though they’ve started to fade some. They were hitting just .207/.268/.343 as a team during their first 33 games But since then, they’ve averaged 4.7 runs per game, hit some home runs and have generally just been competent. They’ve had some players emerge and then fall back. Eric Haase was a great story, but he’s hitting .186/.238/.310 since the start of August. Akil Baddoo has been off and on. So has Jonthan Schoop. But Jeimer Candelario has emerged as a really nice bat for the middle of their order and they have some mashers on the way too. Pitching-wise, they’re led by young arms, but their rotation isn’t quite as inexperienced as the Royals. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have taken big strides this year, while Matt Manning has had some of the growing pains we see with the Royals starters. And their bullpen is better, but still not shutdown.

Royals vs. Tigers Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Tigers
Category Royals Tigers
Winning % .454 .487
Team wRC+ 90 92
Team xFIP 4.62 4.52
Run Differential -53 -95
H2H Wins 9 7
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 4.4 Jeimer Candelario, 3.0

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 LF 418 .259 .325 .452 9.1% 27.5% 110 1.7
Jonathan Schoop 1B 634 .274 .317 .428 5.5% 19.9% 102 1.3
Robbie Grossman RF 634 .237 .353 .419 14.2% 23.2% 114 2.4
Miguel Cabrera DH 493 .257 .318 .391 8.1% 22.9% 94 -0.4
Jeimer Candelario 3B 592 .275 .350 .454 9.8% 22.1% 120 3.0
Eric Haase C 347 .225 .280 .469 6.6% 30.8% 100 1.0
Niko Goodrum SS 294 .214 .293 .336 9.2% 33.0% 74 0.0
Willi Castro 2B 432 .213 .268 .344 5.3% 24.8% 66 -0.7
Victor Reyes CF 215 .250 .277 .407 3.7% 25.6% 83 0.0

Tigers Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Dustin Garneau C 52 .245 .269 .694 3.8% 28.8% 148 0.5
Isaac Paredes INF 54 .227 .333 .364 14.8% 11.1% 88 -0.2
Harold Castro INF/OF 310 .285 .314 .351 4.5% 21.9% 82 0.5
Daz Cameron OF 92 .202 .272 .357 7.6% 28.3% 72 -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
Michael Fulmer 49 66.1 5 6 24.7% 6.7% 3.12 3.76 1.4
Kyle Funkhouser 52 63.2 7 3 20.8% 12.0% 3.25 4.43 0.6
Derek Holland 36 45.2 3 2 23.2% 9.0% 5.32 4.05 0.3

Probable Pitching Matchups

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

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Hernandez 23 80.2 6 2 21.6% 11.2% 3.90 4.87 1.0
Casey Mize 28 143.1 7 8 19.0% 7.0% 3.64 4.43 1.2

Mize came up last season and had a 6.99 ERA in seven starts. He wasn’t doing anything well, giving up tons of hits, tons of homers, tons of walks. His first two starts this year were great, but then had a couple hiccups before really settling in and now since the start of May, he’s giving up more than three runs in just three out of 23 starts. His home run rate is perfectly acceptable. He’s throwing strikes. The only thing you’d like to see more of is strikeouts, but the stuff is pretty clearly there. I would guess he takes the next step next year because he’s still getting hit fairly hard this season and just having some better luck with it. One of the big differences is that he’s added a slider this year and he throws it more than any other pitch. It’s really just a slight variation on his cutter from last year, but it’s better. He won’t go deep in this game. The Tigers are wanting to keep him on the mound, but have limited him to a maximum of 53 pitches in September. In fact, he hasn’t thrown more than 88 since the end of June, so they’re being careful with him. That means mostly a bullpen game for the Tigers in this one, but Mize will get the first three or four innings.

That’s probably what the Royals should do with Carlos Hernandez, who is showing some very real signs of fatigue over his last few starts. In his last one, we saw the velocity on his fastball dip to the low-90s, which is obviously a far cry from 98-100 that we’ve seen in other starts. He’s also struggling to get the ball down. It’s no surprise. He’s exceeded his career high in innings by quite a bit and has exceeded last year’s output by more than 700 percent. But he’s still fun to watch when he’s on. He’s had an extra couple days off with the rainout Wednesday and Thursday’s off day so maybe there’ll be a bit more of the explosion we saw from him when he first entered the rotation after the break. He’s faced the Tigers twice this year. The first time as a great relief outing of three shutout innings. The second time was his worst start of the year, giving up five runs in 2.2 innings in a game the Royals came back to win.

Saturday - Jon Heasley vs. Tarik Skubal, 5:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jon Heasley 1 4.0 0 1 11.1% 0.0% 9.00 5.57 -0.1
Tarik Skubal 29 142.0 8 12 26.8% 7.6% 4.25 3.98 1.0

Like Mize, Skubal is getting the careful treatment. He hasn’t thrown more than 50 pitches this month and that likely won’t change in this one. He also had struggles last year and has looked better at times this season. He struck out a ton and didn’t walk too many last year and those rates are about the same. He’s still giving up way too many home runs and he’s actually been a little easier to hit this year, so I don’t know quite how much to buy the ERA drop. The culprit for him is his fastball. It looks like it should be a very good pitch, but it keeps getting hit. This year opponents are hitting .296 with a .605 SLG against it. His sinker has been much better, but the expected numbers aren’t, so that might be a mirage. His slider is the money pitch and I think he should use his changeup more. It’s been excellent every time I’ve seen him pitch. He has a decent platoon split and using that changeup might help to bridge that gap. He’s given up six home runs in 13.2 innings to the Royals this year, so maybe we see a Salvy team record in this one.

I thought Heasley was fine in his first big league start. He showed some control but with command issues and I wish he’d throw the curve a little bit more because I can see how that will be a plus big league pitch for him. It sounds cliche, but he’s not going to get chases on the curve if it’s 2-0 with two fastballs, though, so he needs to do a better job of finding the zone with that in order for the curve to really be special. Still, a no walk big league debut for a Royals pitcher is kind of like a unicorn, so I’m interested to see how he fares against a team like the Tigers that will swing and miss quite a bit.

Sunday - Kris Bubic vs. Wily Peralta, 11:10am

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 27 116.1 5 6 20.4% 11.5% 4.80 4.67 -0.1
Wily Peralta 17 83.0 4 3 15.0% 9.2% 3.04 4.84 0.6

I still have no earthly idea how Wily Peralta has a 3.04 ERA in September of a big league season in which he’s thrown more than like four innings (yes, I know that a 3.04 ERA isn’t possible in four innings). It looked like he was starting to regress after a bad start against the Royals that was followed by a bad start against the Twins at the end of July, but since the start of August, Peralta has a 2.41 ERA in eight starts. The peripherals certainly don’t scream great pitcher. He’s struck out 28 and walked 16 in those 41 innings, but the results have been great. He does limit home runs, so that’s something, but it still doesn’t add up. His sinker has been crushed, but his four-seam fastball hasn’t. Then his slider has also been crushed but his splitter has been dominant. I’d simply throw the pitch that was dominant more often, but hey, that’s just me. Either way, at some point, the other shoe is going to drop again for Peralta. Maybe not in this one and maybe not in his last start of the year either, but I don’t see how he keeps this up.

The Royals have moved Kris Bubic to the finale to give him a few extra days as he was originally scheduled to get game one, but the rainout allowed them to give him some time. He’s at 116.1 innings this year, which is more than double what he threw last season, so it makes sense that they’d want to be careful. He had a couple bad starts at the end of August (sandwiched around a great one in Chicago), but he’s come back in September and looked good. He has a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings, but he’s walked eight and struck out 15, so there needs to be some improvement there. What impressed me was that one of his bad starts in August was against the Mariners and then in his last start, he gave up two hits over 6.1 innings against them. It’s always nice to see a pitcher bounce back against an opponent he was hit hard by in a previous start. He’s been good against the Tigers this year with a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings over three appearances.

Prediction

There are an awful lot of sweeps in this series. The Tigers are limiting the innings on their young guys and I just can’t buy that Peralta is actually good. I’m going to give the Royals the kiss of death and predict a sweep for them. Boy do I feel silly about that.

Poll

One last dance against the Tigers...how does it go?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Royals sweep it and hold bragging rights for the middle of division conference in November.
    (19 votes)
  • 52%
    Royals take two of three, win the season series and get to use the shocked tiger logo as a uniform patch in 2022.
    (39 votes)
  • 9%
    Tigers take two of three, still lose the season series and Miguel Cabrera has to rub Salvy’s feet before games for a year.
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    Tigers sweep, Royals lose the season series and shame encompasses the clubhouse.
    (9 votes)
74 votes total Vote Now