Detroit Tigers (54-57) at Kansas City Royals (66-44)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (1-2, 7.90 ERA) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (7-7, 2.69 ERA)
There was a moment when opposing executives were concerned about Johnny Cueto's health prior to being traded to the Royals. However, his last three outings -- two for the Royals -- indicate that things are just fine. Cueto tossed eight shutout innings for the Cincinnati Reds in his final start for them, then has followed up with five runs in 13 innings in a Royals uniform. In all, Cueto has a 2.14 ERA with a .213 batting average allowed in those three outings, holding opponents to just 21 baserunners in 21 innings.
Cueto's strikeout rate has dipped slightly this season, and especially lately, but otherwise he is the same pitcher that amassed 4.7 WAR for the Reds in 2014. He has lowered his walk and home run rates, resulting in a career-best 3.12 FIP in 143 2/3 innings so far this year. His fly ball rate has climbed by a fair amount since 2013, but now that he is pitching in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium, ground balls aren't so important. He isn't stranding as many baserunners as he did in the past two seasons, but it hasn't affected his overall numbers. His 2.47 ERA since the start of 2013 trails only Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Like Daniel Norris three days before him, Matt Boyd won over Tigers fans with an impressive debut. He shut down these same Royals over seven innings, scattering seven hits without allowing a walk. Boyd lived at the top of the strike zone, relying on the cavernous outfield of Comerica Park to swallow up weak fly ball after weak fly ball. Boyd took advantage of the hyper-aggressive Royals, who lead the American League by swinging at 34.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, working above the zone with his low-90s fastball. He induced plenty of swings on the high cheese, resulting in a whopping 16 flyouts.
Tigers hitter to fear: Ian Kinsler (.333/.429/.833 in 7 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Victor Martinez (.000/.100/.000 in 10 plate appearances)
The Tigers have seen Cueto twice this season, and... it's not going well. They are batting .182 against him, though five of their eight hits have gone for extra bases. This includes three of their five hits in their meeting five days ago, when Cueto held the Tigers to a pair of runs in seven innings. Ian Kinsler has had the most success against Cueto this year, reaching base three times in six plate appearances. Anthony Gose struck a blow with an RBI triple to deep center field, while Tyler Collins hit a couple of balls hard in three at-bats.
Cueto did exactly what he was acquired to do in his last start, tossing seven strong innings while allowing just two runs. However, as we occasionally saw after the Tigers acquired David Price in 2014, Cueto was beaten by an even better outing from Boyd. The two will square off again tonight as Cueto makes his home debut in a Royals uniform. Boyd did not seem fazed by the atmosphere at Comerica Park in his Tigers debut, even relishing the moment a bit as he finished his outing, but tonight's game may be the hottest ticket in Kansas City since last year's World Series. He will likely need to beat Cueto again tonight, as few teams have been able to mount comebacks against the Royals' vaunted bullpen.
The Royals jump out to an early lead and Cueto coasts to an easy win.
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