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Detroit Tigers Series Preview: KC’s former basement buddy has loaded up and seems ready to win

An off-season of moves were made in the hopes that the Tigers could be one of the last teams standing.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals and Tigers have been on a similar path over the last few years. The Tigers started their rebuild a bit before the Royals, but they’re building in similar ways. Both drafted a ton of pitching and both have started to graduate that pitching with both seeing mixed results. The bats came a bit later for both and both teams started the year with their top prospect at the big league level and both have struggled some. They also both have top level offensive prospects about ready for the big league level who haven’t yet debuted.

The difference, at this point, is that the Tigers have started the next step of picking up pieces to supplement what they’ve done. They signed Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez as big free agents. They traded for Tucker Barnhart before the lockout and Austin Meadows just before the season. All those pickups have helped to pick up the young pitchers and make it a little easier on them. Baez and Meadows help to score runs (and Baez helps defensively) while Barnhart is great with a staff behind the plate and Rodriguez gives the Tigers a veteran to slot all the young arms down. I won’t be surprised if the season ends with the Tigers playing in October. I won’t be surprised if they don’t, but they’ve done a nice job building.

Tigers vs. Royals Matchup Stats

Category Royals Tigers
Category Royals Tigers
Winning % .457 .475
H2H Wins 11 8
Team wRC+ 89 93
Team xFIP 4.52 4.65
Run Differential -102 -59
Highest Returning fWAR Nicky Lopez, 4.4 Jeimer Candelario, 3.2

Tigers Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Robbie Grossman RF 671 .239 .357 .415 14.6% 23.1% 114 2.7
Austin Meadows LF 591 .234 .315 .458 10.0% 20.6% 113 2.0
Javier Baez SS 547 .265 .319 .494 5.1% 33.6% 116 3.6
Jeimer Candelario 3B 626 .271 .351 .443 10.4% 21.6% 119 3.2
Miguel Cabrera DH 526 .256 .316 .386 7.6% 22.4% 92 -0.7
Jonathan Schoop 2B 674 .278 .320 .435 5.5% 19.7% 105 1.5
Akil Baddoo CF 461 .259 .330 .436 9.8% 26.5% 108 1.9
Spencer Torkelson 1B 530 .267 .383 .552 14.5% 21.5% 148 ---
Tucker Barnhart C 388 .247 .317 .368 7.5% 25.8% 81 1.2

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 68 .210 .250 .581 4.4% 26.5% 113 0.5
Harold Castro INF/OF 339 .283 .310 .359 4.1% 21.2% 83 0.5
Eric Haase OF/C 381 .231 .286 .459 6.8% 31.2% 100 1.0
Victor Reyes OF 220 .258 .284 .416 3.6% 25.0% 88 0.3

Tigers Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Gregory Soto 62 63.2 6 3 27.5% 14.5% 3.39 4.32 0.5
Michael Fulmer 52 69.2 5 6 24.6% 6.7% 2.97 3.87 1.6
Alex Lange 36 35.2 1 3 24.1% 9.9% 4.04 4.11 0.1

Tigers vs. Royals Matchups

April 14 - Casey Mize vs. Zack Greinke, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Casey Mize 30 150.1 7 9 19.3% 6.7% 3.71 4.37 1.3
Zack Greinke 30 171.0 11 6 17.2% 5.2% 4.16 4.21 1.3

The Tigers took Casey Mize first overall in the 2018 draft that Royals fans are all too familiar with. As was the case with so many of the Royals selections, he’s moved quickly and is now in his third big league season. 2020 was a rough one for him, but he started to show signs of what made him a top pick last year. The strikeouts are lacking, but he improved his control and he got a significant number of grounders more last year than in 2020. He didn’t have a great first start this year, but it’s hard not to see how he can improve even more this year. He throws a four-seamer, slider, sinker and split, though in his first start he was very four-seam heavy, which you wouldn’t think would be a winning formula for him. His splitter, to me, is the pitch he should be leaning on more as it was very successful for him and gets all those grounders. He should be primed for 95 pitches or so, but if you look at last season, he was finished after the fifth more often than not without even having a pitch count, so I wouldn’t expect to see him for too terribly long in this game unless he’s ultra-efficient.

Career vs. KC: 6 GS, 31.1 IP, 2-1, 4.88 ERA


Greinke had a very nice return to the Royals with 5.2 innings allowing just one run against the Guardians. The good part was obviously the results, including just one walk. The bad was just one strikeout, which is a bit of a trend we saw at the end of last season for him. I thought and still think he wore down at the end of the year after a bout with Covid, but it’ll be nice if he can get that swing and miss going a little bit in this one. He made an effort to throw his slider more in that start, which is something he’s said is a priority for him this season, but the Guardians struggled with his fastball, whiffing on 25 percent of all swings, so I might be interested to see some more of that against a better Tigers offense than the one he faced last Thursday.

Career vs. DET: 30 G, 27 GS, 165.1 IP, 13-8, 2.94 ERA

April 15 - Tarik Skubal vs. Brad Keller, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Tarik Skubal 31 149.1 8 12 25.9% 7.4% 4.34 4.06 0.7
Brad Keller 26 133.2 8 12 19.6% 10.4% 5.39 4.57 1.1

I’ve thought for awhile that Tarik Skubal might be the best of the Tigers young pitchers. He was taken in the ninth round of that 2018 draft and reached the big leagues in 2020. He’s shown an ability to get the strikeout and he doesn’t walk many batters either, but he’s had big troubles with the home run ball with his fastball. Last season, opponents slugged .611 on it with 22 homers. And it’s the pitch he throws the most. His slider is quite good and I actually like his changeup a lot. In my opinion, he should throw it more than he does, and he did in his first start this year, so maybe that’s something he’s leaning toward this season.

Career vs. KC: 6 G, 4 GS, 28.2 IP, 1-4, 4.40 ERA


Keller looked like something between the 2020 version of himself and the last nine starts of 2021 in his first start against Cleveland. He was throwing strikes, getting grounders, limiting hard contact and even getting some swings and misses. If he can somehow incorporate a few more strikeouts into his game as he did toward the end of his season last year and keep getting those grounders, he has a chance to have his best year yet. What impressed me the most in his first start wasn’t the slider. We know that’s a pitch that can get some swings and misses. It’s the fastball that he had a 40 percent whiff rate on. I don’t think that’ll continue all year, but Keller has some pretty easy velocity. I want to see more of that and less of the two-seamer. He’ll still get his grounders, but he’ll mix in some whiffs with it.

Career vs. DET: 12 G, 8 GS, 52.1 IP, 4-4, 3.61 ERA

April 16 - Matt Manning vs. Kris Bubic, 3:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Matt Manning 18 85.1 4 7 14.8% 8.6% 5.80 5.13 0.9
Kris Bubic 29 130.0 6 7 20.5% 10.6% 4.43 4.57 0.3

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Tigers have a first round pick who they debuted last season and he struggled in his first taste of the big leagues. That’s a recurring theme with both of these teams, which is sort of nice because of the whole misery love company thing. Manning certainly took his lumps last year and he had a good first start of the year this season, allowing just one hit to the Red Sox. If his first start is any indication (and it might not be), he simplified his pitch mix quite a bit, working heavily with his 93-95 MPH fastball and mixing in a slider and curve with the occasional sinker and changeup. I think it worked for a start, but he didn’t get a single whiff on either breaking pitch and the slider was hit pretty hard, so I’m not sold on this being his coming out party just yet.

Career vs. KC: First career appearance


I don’t think a first start of the year could have gone worse for Kris Bubic, as he didn’t even make it out of the first. He left trailing 2-0 but with the bases loaded and Taylor Clarke didn’t help him out, giving up a grand slam. So here Bubic sits with an unsightly 67.50 ERA. But if it helps, his FIP is way better at 12.05 so there’s hope yet. In all honesty, I’m still probably among the least worried about Bubic because of his willingness to change and adapt. He likely doesn’t have what it takes to front a rotation, but that’s okay. His command is always his biggest enemy. If he has it, he’ll get through a lineup two or three times just fine. If he doesn’t, the Royals need to see that pretty quickly and pull the plug, especially with such a big pitching staff. Either way, I hope we see his slider a lot more in this one than we got to on Sunday. The Tigers last season hit .287 with a .393 SLG on lefty changeups, which isn’t great, but it’s solid. It was a different story with lefty sliders, hitting just .192 with a .322 SLG

Career vs. DET: 5 G, 4 GS, 27.2 IP, 2-0, 2.28 ERA

April 17 - Tyler Alexander vs. Carlos Hernandez, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Tyler Alexander 41 106.1 2 4 19.3% 6.2% 3.81 4.86 1.0
Carlos Hernandez 24 85.2 6 2 20.7% 11.5% 3.68 5.00 1.0

One-game samples are difficult to determine if a pitcher is changing the way they throw, but Tyler Alexander’s shift to sinkers in his first start is an interesting one if it wasn’t just based on the matchup. He threw 46 percent of them in his first start and gave up three hits in seven at bats that finished on it, but they were all singles. He relied more on his cutter last season. Nothing he throws is hard, but the sinker is a good four to six miles per hour harder than that cutter. He has good movement, so he’ll get some strikeouts, but he also has some issues we’ve seen in Royals starters where he can get hurt by the long ball because the stuff isn’t elite and if you miss with stuff that isn’t elite, big leaguers hit it. He’s actually been better as a starter in his career and I think that’s because it gives him time to make up for mistakes.

Career vs. KC: 7 G, 8.2 IP, 1-1, 5.19 ERA


While he wasn’t as bad as Bubic in his first start, Carlos Hernandez struggled with control early and then once he had gotten back on track, he made a mistake that resulted in a two-run homer. The Royals did come back to tie the game, so he didn’t put it out of reach, but he struggled to start, which was pretty much on par with his last spring start. Is that out of his system? Is it going to be an issue moving forward? We don’t know those answers obviously, but he was quite good in the first inning of games in 2021, which is a contrast from the rest of the Royals staff, so hopefully it was a blip on the radar. Hernandez still has fantastic stuff and any of five pitches he can lean on throughout games, so he’s a pitcher to watch, but he’s also struggled with command and giving innings in the past, so he’s facing a big test early in this season as part of the first wave rotation.

Career vs. DET: 4 G, 3 GS, 12.1 IP, 0-1, 5.84 ERA

Tigers vs. Royals Prediction

It’s so easy to be high on a team when they’ve won two in a row and down on them when they’ve lost two in a row. I like this Tigers team. I think they’re better than the Royals. But I like the pitching matchups to start after the rainout in St. Louis, so I’m going to be super optimistic here and say the Royals take three of four.

Poll

How many games do the Royals win this series?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    4
    (12 votes)
  • 25%
    3
    (57 votes)
  • 46%
    2
    (104 votes)
  • 18%
    1
    (41 votes)
  • 4%
    0
    (9 votes)
223 votes total Vote Now