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Game 23 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

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The Tigers and Royals kick off the Series to End All Series (or an early season four-game set) tonight in Kansas City.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (15-7) at Kansas City Royals (14-7)

Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: RHP Alfredo Simon (4-0, 1.65 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (1-0, 4.15 ERA)

Pitcher GS IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 WHIP FIP SIERA fWAR
Simon 4 27.1 4.94 1.32 0.33 0.95 3.01 3.80 0.6
Duffy 4 21.2 6.65 2.91 0.83 1.43 3.77 4.14 0.3

With James Shields now plying his trade in San Diego, Danny Duffy was one of the starters the Royals are relying on for front-of-the-rotation production, including eating some of the innings Shields left behind. That has not happened so far in 2015. Duffy has logged six innings in just one of his four starts this season, a 6 1/3 inning performance against the Minnesota Twins on April 13. He has gotten better in every outing, going from a five-run outburst in his first start to allowing just one unearned run in his last start on April 24. Duffy has a 2.70 ERA in his last three starts, but is allowing plenty of baserunners, with a 1.43 WHIP on the season.

Duffy's fastball averaged 94 miles per hour in 2014, but he is not one to rack up a ton of strikeouts. He fanned 113 batters in 149 1/3 innings last season, and is off to a similar start in 2015 with 16 whiffs in 21 2/3 innings. This is a far cry from his days in the minor leagues, when he struck out over a batter per inning at just about every level. Duffy's walk rate has improved in the jump from the minors to the majors, which partially offsets his sharp drop in strikeout rate. He still walked over three batters per nine innings in 2014, though, resulting in a FIP over a full run higher than his 2.53 ERA.

Alfredo Simon has been the Tigers' best starting pitcher in April. That sentence still seems fairly absurd given his career path, but we're getting to the point where we might just have to shrug and roll with it. Simon's strikeout rate has dropped from an already low career level, but is walking just 3.9 percent of the batters he has faced. His ground ball rate has risen above 50 percent for the first time since 2012, a good omen given how solid the Tigers' infield defense has looked this season. Simon has always been fairly good about limiting home runs, but he has gone to the extreme this season, allowing just one homer in 27 1/3 innings.

Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.278/.440/.444 in 25 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Nick Castellanos (.125/.200/.125 in 10 plate appearances)

Simon has made just one career start against the Royals, yet is sporting a 3-1 record and a 3.18 ERA thanks to four relief appearances scattered throughout his eight-year career. He has only faced one batter -- All-Star leftfielder Alex Gordon -- five times, and Gordon's lone hit was a homer.

Duffy, meanwhile, has run into some hard luck against the Tigers. He has a solid 3.42 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in nine career starts, yet is 1-6. He was the loser in all three of his starts against Detroit last season despite allowing just four earned runs and a .527 OPS in 17 innings. Not many Tigers have had individual success against him either. Miguel Cabrera is the only Tigers batter to hit better than .250 in his career, though he does have six walks in 25 plate appearances.

Outlook

This should be fun. The Tigers and Royals have easily been the two best teams in the American League so far this season, and I can't remember an early season series getting the kind of hype this one is receiving. National writers will throw around words like "measuring stick" and the like, but this four-game set doesn't mean that much more than the other 72 games the Tigers will play against divisional foes this season. Regardless of how the series plays out, there is far too much baseball left to read too far into what happens this weekend. Sit back and enjoy it.

Prediction

The Tigers out-Royals the Royals in a low scoring affair.

★★★

Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a $125,000 one-day fantasy baseball league today. It's $2 to join and first place wins $10,000. Enter now!