Detroit Tigers (85-68) at Kansas City Royals (83-69)
Time/Place: 1:05 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Max Scherzer (16-5, 3.26 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (14-7, 3.15 ERA)
James Shields dominated the Tigers in their previous meeting, allowing just two hits and a walk in seven shutout innings. The dazzling performance salvaged a disappointing series for the Royals, who had lost their slim division lead in the two days prior. He gave the Tigers a heavy dose of off-speed pitches, throwing just 41 fastballs in 98 pitches. The result? Fifteen whiffs for Tigers batters, resulting in eight strikeouts. The normally aggressive Tigers were a bit more passive in this outing, allowing Shields to get ahead with his fastball before going to his secondary offerings. Shields threw 15 of 23 first-pitch strikes, and 17 of the 23 batters he faced saw a fastball to open their at-bat.
Shields' great run continued in his last start, when he held the Chicago White Sox to three runs in seven innings. While he did not get a decision, the Royals won the game 4-3, marking their seventh win in Shields' last nine starts. He continued his heavy usage of the cutter and changeup in that start, inducing 17 whiffs and six strikeouts. The White Sox did have 10 hits off Shields, but only one -- a double from Adam Eaton -- went for extra bases.
Max Scherzer had his best start in nearly a month when he faced the Royals back on September 9th, but the way he got there wasn't pretty. Scherzer only allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings, but gave up seven hits and four walks in doing so. Still, the Tigers bullpen sealed the deal, delivering Scherzer his 16th victory of the season. Last time out, Scherzer demonstrated better command with one walk, but still struggled to put hitters away. He only tallied five strikeouts and allowed four runs, three of which came in a rough sixth inning. The later innings seem to have been problematic for Max lately, but numbers show that the first few innings have been his roughest in 2014 as a whole.
Hitter to fear: Alex Gordon (.389/.511/.750 in 45 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jayson Nix (.000/.000/.000 in 12 plate appearances)
Scherzer's win against the Royals 11 days ago helped his numbers somewhat, but he has still struggled against Kansas City this season. He has allowed 11 runs in 18 2/3 innings, and the Royals offense has a .751 OPS against him. Alex Gordon and Omar Infante have done the most damage this year, combining for seven hits in 18 at-bats. Gordon has a double and a home run off Scherzer in 2014, adding to an already impressive resume against the Tigers' ace. Fun fact: Jayson Nix is 0 for 12 with nine strikeouts against Scherzer in his career.
As big as last night's game felt, this one feels even bigger. A win for the Tigers would ensure that they go into next week with at least a 1 1/2 game lead in the division. With tomorrow's pitching matchup tilted in their favor, the Tigers would be in a great position to sweep the series and effectively end the division race. A win for the Royals sets up a whale of a rubber match tomorrow afternoon, and gives them life as they battle for both the division and a wild card slot. Justin Verlander shook off his demons against the 2014 Royals last night, but can Max do the same?
Big Game James lives up to his moniker and the Royals even the series.