Game 124 Preview: Royals at Tigers

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer and Bruce Chen will face off today in the rubber match of this five game series between the Tigers and Royals.

Kansas City Royals (64-58) at Detroit Tigers (72-51)

Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Bruce Chen (5-0, 1.62 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (17-1, 2.85 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Chen 6 72.1 6.59 2.49 0.75 1.04 3.61 4.33 1.1
Scherzer 24 164.1 9.91 2.08 0.77 0.91 2.69 2.88 5.0

Tiger killer Bruce Chen: the biggest myth in BYB history. Despite his tendency to have one magnificent start against the Tigers every season, his overall numbers are very pedestrian. In 16 career starts against Detroit, he is 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. Last year, despite throwing eight shutout innings in one start, Chen was just 1-4 with a 3.52 ERA against the Tigers.

Chen spent the first half of the season coming out of the bullpen, amassing a 3-0 record and 2.41 ERA in 33 2/3 innings. Of his 19 appearances, 14 of them were scoreless. He made his first start of the year on July 12th, throwing six innings of one-hit ball against the Cleveland Indians. In his six starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. His 4.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a starter is impressive, but a .160 BABIP indicates that he is due for some sharp regression.

One big reason for Chen's success this year has been his ability to limit the home run ball. His home run rate in 2013 is half of his typical career rate, and his home run per fly ball rate is a paltry 5.4%. His strikeout rate is the highest it has been since 2002 and his line drive rate is down. He has also allowed some pretty serious reverse splits. Lefties have a .791 OPS against him, while righties are hitting just .177/.240/.240. His changeup has been worth a career high 4.8 runs above average this year, according to PitchFX.

This is getting silly. Even Max Scherzer's bad outings -- like his last start in Chicago where he allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings -- are still very good. Scherzer wasn't very sharp in that outing, allowing three walks and hitting a batter. However, all of the damage came on one swing of Avisail Garcia's bat (along with a dumb error by Omar Infante).

The big picture

Miguel Cabrera's walk-off home run last night took a lot of pressure off Scherzer and the Tigers for today's game. Had they lost yesterday, they would have had to win to avoid dropping four of five at home to the Royals. Instead, the Tigers have already accomplished their goal of not letting the Royals back into the divisional race. Even if the Tigers lose today, they will still have a 5-6 game lead, depending on the winner of the Cleveland-Oakland game.

Outlook

Despite the low BABIP, Chen has been excellent in the rotation for the Royals over the past month. Comerica Park has been a house of horrors for him; he is just 2-5 with a 6.15 ERA in Detroit in his career. Something has to give today. Given the good numbers the Tigers' big bats have against him -- Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez all have OPS' above 1.150 versus Chen -- we might see that sub-1.00 ERA as a starter take a serious hit.

The Royals are one of two teams to hang five runs on Scherzer this season, doing so on seven hits at Comerica Park back in April. He rebounded to allow two runs in seven innings against them at Kauffman Stadium in June, striking out six. His 1.56 ERA in the second half is impressive, but he is only striking out 7.53 batters per nine innings in his five second half starts. Don't expect that rate to stay so low for long.

Prediction

Scherzer gets win number 18 and the Tigers take the series.

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