Detroit Tigers (84-68) at Kansas City Royals (83-68)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (13-12, 4.81 ERA) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (11-9, 3.41 ERA)
Jason Vargas laid an egg in his last start against the Tigers, allowing four runs on six hits in 5 1/3 innings. The Royals' bullpen kept things close, but the Tigers pulled off a 4-2 victory that brought them into a tie for the division lead. The outing itself wasn't too bad, but allowing no-doubter home runs to Rajai Davis and J.D. Martinez was a letdown for a Royals club looking to pull away from the Tigers during the series in Detroit. Vargas wasn't any better in his last start, allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings in an 8-4 loss against the Boston Red Sox.
In fact, Vargas has faltered down the stretch after allowing a 3.17 ERA through mid-August. He has a 1-4 record and 4.60 ERA in his last five starts. Opposing batters are hitting .296/.336/.456 with three home runs, though have been aided slightly by a .354 BABIP. Vargas has 27 strikeouts to eight walks in the 29 1/3 innings spanning those five starts, so things might not be as dire as they look on the surface.
A pair of divisional foes have gotten to Justin Verlander lately, knocking him around for a 6.05 ERA in his last three starts. Two of those outings came against the Cleveland Indians, a club that Verlander has historically struggled against. However, the Royals were also able to chip away at Verlander's armor when he faced them 11 days ago, scoring four runs in seven innings. Granted, it took Don Kelly and Torii Hunter colliding in center field to score that fourth run, but Verlander's fastball command that evening was spotty at best. He wasn't much better in his last start, walking three and allowing three runs in 5 2/3 innings against the Tribe.
Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.424/.400/.727 in 35 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Raul Ibanez (.114/.200/.143 in 40 plate appearances)
Verlander has allowed at least three runs in each of his five starts against the Royals this season. Salvador Perez is only responsible for one RBI in 12 plate appearances, but has six hits (including three doubles) against the Tigers' right-hander. Omar Infante and former Justin Verlander voodoo doll owner Billy Butler have knocked in a combined nine runs on six hits. Butler is just 4 for 14 against Verlander this year, marking only the second time in eight seasons that Country Breakfast has not hit at least .300 off Verlander.
Neither starter has pitched very well against the opposing lineup this season. Vargas' 5.18 ERA is only slightly better than Verlander's 5.57 ERA, though Verlander's 1.39 WHIP bests Vargas' 1.52. Both lineups have gotten on base at a .333 clip or better against their respective opponent in 2014. Given the Tigers' bullpen disadvantage, the onus falls on Verlander to work deep into the game and keep the score in the Tigers' favor. This is something he has done with ease at Kauffman Stadium in the past -- his career ERA in Kansas City is just 2.98 -- but has struggled with in 2014.
Kansas City moves into a virtual tie for the AL Central lead with an easy win.
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