Kansas City Royals (79-63) at Detroit Tigers (79-65)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: LHP Jason Vargas (11-7, 3.14 ERA) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (15-5, 3.25 ERA)
What looked like a dramatic overpay for Jason Vargas during last offseason has turned into a... well, it's still probably an overpay. However, Vargas has a career-best 3.14 ERA and has already tied his career high of 2.7 WAR. Like Jeremy Guthrie yesterday, Vargas has cut an already respectable walk rate to under five percent in 2014, giving him a career-best 3.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This has resulted in a 3.64 FIP -- another career mark -- but the discrepancy between his ERA and FIP is telling.
That said, there is no particular statistic that points to why Vargas' ERA is so much lower than his FIP. His .296 BABIP is actually higher than his career average. His 77.6 percent strand rate is right around what he has done for the past three seasons. He is allowing a .725 OPS with runners in scoring position, slightly higher than the .713 OPS opposing batters have with the bases empty. If anything, the difference between this year and last rests in his overall line. Opposing batters have a .304 on-base percentage and .390 slugging average this year, down from .332 and .426 in 2013, respectively.
Max Scherzer hasn't been very sharp lately, allowing a 5.11 ERA and .714 OPS in his last four starts. He still has 30 strikeouts to seven walks in his last 24 2/3 innings, but has given up at least three runs in each of those outings. All four starts came on the road, where Scherzer has struggled in 2014. Things have been a different story at Comerica Park, however. He is 9-1 with a 2.77 ERA at home this season and is holding opposing batters to a .280 wOBA. His FIP is higher at home than on the road thanks to a higher home run rate, but his 2.95 xFIP at home ranks eighth in the American League.
Hitter to fear: Alex Gordon (.412/.512/.794 in 41 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Jarrod Dyson (.125/.125/.125 in 16 plate appearances)
Like Justin Verlander yesterday, Max Scherzer has some poor overall numbers against the Royals this year. He has given up 10 runs on 14 hits in 12 innings against Kansas City this season, with 12 strikeouts to two walks. Of course, all 10 of those runs came in one bad start, a four inning meltdown on June 17th. Scherzer's only other outing against Kansas City this season resulted in eight shutout innings back on April 2nd. Darkhorse MVP candidate Alex Gordon is 3 for 6 against Scherzer this season with a double and a home run.
Jason Vargas ranks fifth in the American League with a 2.12 road ERA, but his 3.45 FIP and 4.20 xFIP suggest that there may be some luck involved. The Tigers have had decent success against Vargas this season, however, hitting .303/.346/.487 in three games. They will need to keep the pressure on if Scherzer continues to be inefficient, though his stellar home results are comforting. With the way 2014 has gone, don't expect anything to come easy this week.
Vargas out-duels Scherzer to even the series and set up a whale of a rubber match tomorrow.
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