Game 148 Preview: Royals at Tigers

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers' magic number is down to 10. Doug Fister will try to cut it to single digits tonight against Ervin Santana and the Kansas City Royals.

Kansas City Royals (77-70) at Detroit Tigers (85-62)

Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Ervin Santana (8-9, 3.35 ERA) vs. RHP Doug Fister (12-8, 3.77 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Santana 29 191.0 7.07 2.12 1.18 1.15 3.98 3.76 2.7
Fister 29 186.0 6.53 1.84 0.58 1.30 3.31 3.56 4.0

This is only Santana's second start against the Tigers this season, and the other one went pretty well. Santana allowed just three baserunners in 7 1/3 innings on July 19th in a 1-0 Royals win. This is nothing new for him, though. In 12 career starts, Santana is 7-3 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 3.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio against the Tigers. He hasn't been as effective at Comerica Park, allowing a 5.02 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and .808 OPS in seven starts.

Overall, 2013 has been a resurgent year for Santana, who slogged through an abysmal 2012. Last season, he allowed a 5.16 ERA, 5.63 FIP, and a league-high 39 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels. Royals GM Dayton Moore was mocked for many of his offseason moves, but the trade for Santana is one of few that has actually panned out during his tenure.

The biggest reason for Santana's success -- aside from a dramatic drop in home run rate -- is a huge cut in his walk rate. Last season, he walked 3.08 batters per nine innings. This year, he has lowered that by nearly a full batter per nine innings. His 2.12 walks per nine innings this year is his lowest rate since 2008, his lone All-Star season. He is also stranding 76.4% of baserunners, up from 69.8% last season.

Fister has struggled at times against the Royals this year. In four starts, he has allowed eight hits or more on three separate occasions for a 1.39 WHIP. He has 18 strikeouts to just four walks, but the Royals have seemed to square him up better than most teams. This was most apparent in his last start, when he allowed five runs in 6 1/3 innings last Sunday. Three of those came on one swing from Eric Hosmer, who has hit .316/.409/.474 in 22 plate appearances against Fister.

This is the part where I get to say "I told you so"

No, I'm not talking about Justin Verlander. We've seen starts like this before -- and despite three runs allowed last night, I think we saw vintage Verlander -- and I'm not ready to say he's "back" yet.

I'm talking about Prince Fielder. It has been a month since Torii Hunter aired Prince's personal issues to the local media, and it seems to have taken a weight off of Prince's shoulders. In 29 games over the last calendar month, Prince is hitting .345/.402/.573 with seven home runs and 21 RBI. His eye still hasn't returned -- he has only walked nine times to 17 strikeouts -- but the power has. So much for a career downslope.

Outlook

Fister has been trending the wrong way against the Royals in his last couple starts, allowing 18 hits and eight runs in 12 2/3 innings. He has been able to limit the damage against them at times though, holding them to three runs or fewer in three starts despite all the baserunners. Meanwhile, the emergence of Prince Fielder has taken some pressure off of Miguel Cabrera. In their last 10 home games, the Tigers have scored 56 runs. I don't see them falling far off that pace tonight.

Prediction

The Tigers shock the world and score a late run against the Royals' bullpen to pick up their fourth consecutive win.

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