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Game 144 Preview: Royals at Tigers

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Nah, this one's not important.

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Ed Zurga

Kansas City Royals (79-62) at Detroit Tigers (78-65)

Time/Place: 4:08 p.m., Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Jeremy Guthrie (10-10, 4.31 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (12-12, 4.80 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Guthrie 28 179.2 5.66 2.20 1.10 1.32 4.41 4.31 1.2
Verlander 28 178.0 7.03 3.08 0.86 1.45 3.90 4.24 2.6

Jeremy Guthrie has had a very Jeremy Guthrie-like season, allowing a 4.31 ERA and 4.41 FIP while averaging over 6 1/3 innings per start. He is on pace to eclipse the 200 inning barrier in 2014, something he has already done four times in the last five years. He has made a few incremental improvements since last season, despite a slightly higher ERA. Guthrie is striking out 14.8 percent of batters, his highest rate since 2008. His 2.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the second-best of his career, and highest since 2007. He has cut his home run rate slightly, though nearly all of this improvement has been due to Kaufmann Stadium's spacious outfield dimensions. Fourteen of his 22 home runs allowed in 2014 have come on the road.

As you might expect, Guthrie has been much better during the Royals' recent hot stretch -- they're 28-12 since the trade deadline -- allowing a 3.21 ERA in his last seven starts. He has demonstrated excellent command during this stretch, with just seven walks in 47 2/3 innings. He tossed a complete game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 7th, and has four outings of two earned runs or less. He has still allowed plenty of baserunners, giving up a hit per inning and a .265 batting average. Overall, Guthrie has allowed 193 hits in 179 2/3 innings this season, but just a .252 batting average on the road.

Just about everything that could have go wrong for Justin Verlander did in his last start, as he gave up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. Of course, it didn't matter in the end, as the Tigers were blanked by Indians starter Danny Salazar. Regardless, Verlander struck out seven while walking one, bringing his post-shoulder injury totals to 21 strikeouts and six walks in 19 1/3 innings. Is this a decent small sample or a sign of things to come? That is anyone's guess, but Verlander's strikeout rate is finally above seven per nine innings for the first time in 2014.

Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.467/.438/.800 in 32 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Raul Ibanez (.114/.200/.143 in 40 plate appearances)

Verlander has excellent career numbers against the Royals, but like his overall numbers, he has struggled against Kansas City this season. The Royals are hitting .280/.340/.410 off him, and have scored 17 runs (16 earned) in 25 1/3 innings. Verlander has given up at least three runs in each of his four outings against Kansas City this year, and has a 5.68 ERA. He is just 2-5 against them in the last two seasons -- though he had a respectable 3.27 ERA in six starts in 2013 -- yet is still 17-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 33 career starts against the Royals.

Outlook

This series (and the one in Kansas City next week) could have a big say in who wins the AL Central, but unless one team sweeps, the other 13 games the Tigers have remaining are just as important to their playoff hopes. That said, beating the Royals makes things that much easier, and up until this season, no one was better at that than Justin Verlander. Will we start to see vintage Verlander this afternoon, or will the inconsistency remain?

Prediction

Verlander's struggles against Kansas City continue and the Tigers drop game one of the series.

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting daily $18,000 Fantasy Baseball leagues. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Click here for details.