Kansas City Royals (37-32) at Detroit Tigers (36-30)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (4–5, 3.20 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (8–2, 3.05 ERA)
The "Yordano Ventura for Rookie of the Year" bandwagon never really got off the ground in 2014, but at no fault of his. Ventura has been every bit as impressive as Royals fans had hoped after three impressive starts to close out the 2013 season. He threw three scoreless outings in April en route to a 1.50 ERA and 2.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first five starts. Things tapered somewhat in May, and his strikeout totals have taken a major dip since he missed eight games with an elbow injury at the beginning of the month.
One of the most impressive things about Ventura's performance is his efficiency. Despite having just turned 23 at the beginning of June, Ventura has logged at least six innings in nine of his 12 starts this season. This compares favorably to Justin Verlander, who went at least six innings in 10 of his first 12 starts during his 2006 rookie season. Ventura has arguably been even better, with a lower ERA, higher strikeout total (in fewer innings), and lower home run rate.
Also like Verlander early in his career, Ventura is largely getting by thanks to a big fastball. He throws the 97- to 98-mph heater roughly 60 percent of the time, with some assistance from a curveball and changeup that have both been lethal. Opposing batters are whiffing nearly 11 percent of the time on his four-seam fastball, and more than 15 percent of the time on both breaking pitches. If that were not enough, his 7.1 percent walk rate demonstrates superb command for a young fireballer.
If you're looking for a pitcher to compare Ventura to in 2014, look no further than the other starter in tonight's game. Max Scherzer has a higher strikeout rate, but his walk and home run rates are both similar to what Ventura has done so far. Scherzer's numbers got a big boost from his first career shutout in his last outing. He gained 0.3 WAR from just nine short innings and saw his ERA drop by nearly a third of a run. He generated an incredible 18 whiffs in 113 pitches, outdueling Chris Sale before the Tigers tacked on a few insurance runs against Chicago's beleaguered bullpen.
Hitter to fear: Alex Gordon (.387/.500/.677 in 38 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Lorenzo Cain (.000/.000/.000 in 12 plate appearances)
Billy Butler looked like his usual self against Justin Verlander last night, particularly when he hit a bases clearing double over Austin Jackson's head. He has been the complete opposite against Scherzer, however, with nine strikeouts to two walks in 50 at-bats. Lorenzo Cain is hitless with five strikeouts in 12 at-bats, and Jarrod Dyson is hitting .071. Tiger killer Salvador Perez has a pair of homers and is probably due for an extra base hit after a pair of singles last night. Alex Gordon should probably just be walked at this point.
For the third start in a row, Max Scherzer will be asked to carry the load against an ace-caliber pitcher. Ventura does not have the track record of Chris Sale or Jon Lester, but he has proven to be more than capable of shutting down an MLB lineup on any given night. Luckily, so is Scherzer. His last start may have drastically altered his ERA, but other metrics were unfazed by his excellent outing — meaning that he has been pitching that well all season long. If the offense shows up a bit earlier tonight, the Tigers may be able to maintain their slim division lead.
The dream of a wire-to-wire division championship stays alive for a couple more games.