Detroit Tigers (60-70) at Kansas City Royals (80-50)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (2-6, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (9-9, 2.94 ERA)
Things haven't been going well for Johnny Cueto lately. After shutting out the Tigers in a brilliant performance on August 10, Cueto handled business as usual in an eight-inning outing against the Angels. He has gotten roughed up in his last two starts, though, allowing 13 runs (12 earned) on 21 hits in 11 innings. The Jekyll-and-Hyde Red Sox offense tagged him for 13 (!) hits in a 7-2 win 11 days ago, then the Baltimore Orioles slugged three home runs in their romp, Cueto's third loss in six starts for the Royals.
Luckily for Kansas City, Cueto's peripherals don't suggest anything sinister. His pitch velocity has not dipped at all since arriving in the American League, and he has a 6.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in a Royals uniform. His arsenal has changed some, with a bit more emphasis on his slider and curveball, but the uptick in home run rate seems confined to one bad start against a homer-happy Orioles lineup. Given Cueto's stellar numbers against the Tigers this season -- they're hitting .160 with a .496 OPS against him in three matchups -- his struggles shouldn't last for long.
As Justin Verlander continues to round into vintage form, it makes you wonder what the 2015 season could have been. Verlander turned back the clock once again in his last start, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Angels before one errant fastball landed inches fair. The level of frustration afterward didn't boil over to Armando Galarraga-like levels, but the disappointment felt similar. Verlander's third career no-no would have put him in some truly elite company. The crazy part? With how well Verlander has been pitching lately, he belongs with those names -- Ryan, Feller, and the like -- once again.
Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.474/.450/.816 in 40 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Mike Moustakas (.189/.204/.245 in 55 plate appearances)
Justin Verlander's career numbers against the Royals are spectacular, but his recent results have been anything but. In 13 meetings since the start of 2013, Verlander is 4-6 with a 4.19 ERA. He has a solid 2.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio during that stretch, but the Royals have racked up 94 hits in 88 innings, well above his usual career rate against them. Is it all due to the injuries? That's tough to say, and the Royals' current roster is batting .273/.302/.416 against him, led by Salvador Perez, who has 18 hits in 38 at-bats.
If things were different, this would be a whale of a matchup to kick off the month of September (a playoff-caliber one, if you will). Justin Verlander has announced his return with authority, while Johnny Cueto has shown no mercy in his repeated demolition of the Tigers' depleted offense. There is some potential for offense here -- the Royals have handled Verlander lately and Cueto's last two starts were capital U-G ugly -- but it's tough to bet against a pair of aces.
Verlander out-pitches Cueto but the Royals get the win.
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