Game 68 Preview: Royals at Tigers

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, the Tigers are looking up in the standings. Drew Smyly takes the mound looking to get Detroit back into first place.

Kansas City Royals (38-32) at Detroit Tigers (36-31)

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

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Jeremy Guthrie (3-6, 4.04 ERA) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (3-5, 3.58 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Guthrie 14 91.1 4.93 2.36 1.28 1.26 4.89 4.65 0.2
Smyly 10 60.1 7.61 3.43 1.34 1.33 4.48 4.09 0.4

Finally, right? After facing a pair of starters outperforming their preseason expectations, the Tigers finally get right-hander Jeremy Guthrie, the only Royals starter with an ERA above 3.50. Not so fast, Tigers fans. After getting blown up by the Seattle Mariners more than a month ago, Guthrie has a 3.10 ERA in 40 innings in his last six starts. His 25:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that period isn't pretty (like usual), but he has held opponents to a .657 OPS on a relatively modest .283 BABIP. If that were not bad enough for the Tigers' chances, consider this: Guthrie's 3.10 ERA in the last month would rank second on the Tigers' roster by over a run and a half.

Overall, Guthrie is essentially the same pitcher he has always been. His season-long ERA, FIP, and xFIP are nearly identical to 2013's final numbers, and his strikeout and walk rates have not changed much either. He is allowing a higher percentage of fly balls this season at the expense of a lower line drive rate, resulting in a 28 point drop in BABIP. He is still homer prone, especially when pitching outside the expansive confines of Kauffman Stadium. Of the 13 home runs he has allowed in 2014, nine have come on the road. However, he has only given up two long balls in his last six starts (four of which came at home).

Drew Smyly delivered the best start of his young career in the last series between these two teams, holding the Royals scoreless through seven innings. He only allowed two hits and two walks while striking out six and was as dominant as we have ever seen. That Royals lineup did not feature the likes of Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain, but Smyly's platoon splits will be a helpful weapon against Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, and Mike Moustakas. The trio of lefties has combined for eight hits in the first two games of this series, including a pair of home runs. The righties may still pose a problem  Smyly's OPS against righties is at .861 as of this morning  but facing them without runners on base (assuming Ned Yost continues to alternate righties and lefties tonight) will be an improvement.

Hitter to fear: Billy Butler (.625/.667/.750 in 9 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alex Gordon (.071/.188/.071 in 16 plate appearances)

As one might expect given our constant discussion of his platoon splits, the Royals' righties hit Smyly well. Billy Butler has done the most damage, with five hits in eight at-bats. Butler has tormented the first two starters in this series as well, racking up four hits and three RBI. Salvador Perez homered off Smyly in their only matchup, while Alcides Escobar's .636 OPS is about all you can expect out of Alcides Escobar's bat. Mike Moustakas has bucked the lefty trend with three hits in seven at-bats, but Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon have struggled their way to just three hits in 26 combined at-bats.

Outlook

Last season, the Tigers lost the first three games in a four game series against the Oakland Athletics in August. If it were not for a ninth inning comeback off former A's closer Grant Balfour, they would have been swept at a fairly pivotal point in the season before an important series with the Cleveland Indians. Granted, they were not in the same type of funk that this year's team is, but the team was 911 in its previous 20 games before Torii Hunter's walkoff home run landed in the bullpen. There are signs of life, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, and a solid starting pitching performance should see them get back into the win column.

Prediction

Miguel Cabrera hits a first-pitch homer today.

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