Kansas City Royals (62-42) at Detroit Tigers (51-54)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: LHP Danny Duffy (4-5, 4.28 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-3, 4.86 ERA)
Danny Duffy put together a promising four months in the Royals' rotation in 2014, allowing a 2.44 ERA and holding opponents to a .591 OPS in 22 starts from May to August. He left his 23rd start after just one pitch due to a shoulder injury, made two starts later in the month, and was sparsely used throughout the Royals' run to the World Series. Despite the late-season injury scare, Duffy was primed for a breakout season in 2015. He and young flamethrower Yordano Ventura were expected to shoulder the load left by departed free agent James Shields as the Royals looked to return to the postseason.
The Royals' AL pennant defense has gone swimmingly so far, but Duffy's season has not. He struggled in his first eight starts of the season, allowing a 5.87 ERA and 4.52 FIP. He was placed on the disabled list in late May with biceps tendonitis, and returned a month later. Since then, Duffy has looked more like his 2014 self, allowing a 2.89 ERA in his last 43 2/3 innings. However, Duffy's FIP has actually risen in that short stretch, to 4.89. His walk rate has improved, but he only has 22 strikeouts in his last six starts, and is relying heavily on his defense to the tune of a .250 BABIP and an 85.5 percent strand rate.
Justin Verlander drew similar concern after a pair of solid July starts, in which he allowed two combined runs to the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox, but only struck out nine hitters in 15 2/3 innings. He was also roughed up for seven runs by the Baltimore Orioles, though that outing wasn't as bad as his final line suggests. Verlander did his best to silence doubters in his last start, striking out 10 batters in eight dominant innings against the Tampa Bay Rays. It will take a similar effort against a more lively offense to truly garner the league's attention, but with just four walks in 32 1/3 July innings, his command issues appear to be over.
Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.429/.405/.714 in 37 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mike Moustakas (.180/.196/.240 in 52 plate appearances)
Billy Butler may no longer be around, but he apparently taught catcher Salvador Perez his Verlander-beating ways before he departed. Perez has had no issue hitting Verlander in his young career, with 15 hits (including seven doubles) in 35 at-bats. Alex Rios has been nearly as lethal, batting .372 with a .426 on-base percentage in 47 plate appearances. Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer have largely been held in check, but the two are currently enjoying breakout seasons and could pose more of a threat to Verlander than ever before.
Three months ago, both of these teams were must-see TV. I spent part of a vacation in Arizona watching the Tigers and Royals split a well-played four-game series at Kauffman Stadium, then the Royals took two of three at Comerica Park a week later. This series was supposed to be a renewal of that heavyweight matchup.
Instead, it's... well, I'm not sure what to call it. The Tigers don't exactly get to play "spoiler" yet, in part because Kansas City is 8 1/2 games ahead of everyone else in the AL Central. The Royals could sweep, but the unofficial knockout blow for this Tigers team came prior to last week's trade deadline. There is excitement to be found in Verlander's recent resurgence, and another strong start can build more anticipation towards 2016.
Verlander gets into trouble in the middle innings, the bullpen bullpens, and Kansas City wins going away.
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