Kansas City Royals (86-61) at Detroit Tigers (68-78)
Time/Place: 7:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Edinson Volquez (13-8, 3.59 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (1-5, 8.02 ERA)
Entering this weekend's series, many Royals fans were wondering if Edinson Volquez -- not the struggling Johnny Cueto -- should be the Royals' Game 1 starter in the playoffs. Cueto's strong outing on Friday alleviated some of those concerns, but they show how consistent Volquez has been this season. He leads their pitching staff with 180 1/3 innings pitched and 2.3 WAR, and has done an excellent job of giving his team a chance to win. Volquez has a 13-8 record on the year, but the Royals are 21-9 (!) in his starts.
The recipe for success is simple: get Volquez through six innings, then let the bullpen carry you to the finish line. The 32-year-old righthander has held opponents to a .234 batting average and .300 on-base percentage his first two times through the batting order this season. After that? Opponents are hitting .290/.364/.389 with 14 extra base hits in 220 plate appearances. With Ned Yost's quick trigger finger at the ready, the Tigers will need to get to Volquez early. Opponents are slightly better the first time through the lineup (.713 OPS) than the second time through (.612 OPS).
Matt Boyd was charged with three earned runs in five innings in his last start, a 5.40 ERA. He was much better than that, however, and if he weren't on a pitch count, he may have gotten a chance to get out of his own mess. Boyd, who last pitched on September 8, was pulled after allowing two batters to reach in the sixth inning. With only one run in at that time and a pitch count in the mid-70s, Boyd likely would have gotten a chance to face a few more hitters in a normal game.
Instead, Boyd is butting up against his innings limit. He threw 133 1/3 innings across two levels last season and is sitting at 157 1/3 total innings pitched in 2015. With no off days remaining over the season's final two weeks, the Tigers will likely keep Boyd's pitch count low so that they can squeeze a few more starts out of him down the stretch. We'll have to look deeper for signs of growth -- he induced seven whiffs on 72 pitches, including four on his changeup -- in lieu of long, dominant outings.
Hitter to fear: Kendrys Morales (.714/.714/1.143 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Salvador Perez (.167/.167/.167 in 6 plate appearances)
Boyd has seen plenty of the Royals so far, and the more familiar they have gotten with his arsenal, the worse the results have been. As a team, the Royals are hitting .390/.419/.542 off Boyd this season, including a seven-hit, six-run outing in their last meeting on September 3. Three Royals hitters are batting over .500 off Boyd in a limited sample, while Lorenzo Cain has a pair of extra base hits (including the only homer). Tonight's game could be a slugfest, as Volquez has allowed 13 runs in 16 innings against the Tigers this year.
Even Volquez has not been immune to the Royals' September swoon. He has allowed 12 earned runs in 15 innings this month, including six runs on eight hits in his last start against the Tigers. The Royals have allowed a 5.53 ERA as a team this month, and their starters have been even worse at 5.83. With home field advantage on the line, they could use a resurgent outing from Volquez to get back on track. It won't be easy, though; the Tigers have broken out of an August funk and are hitting .273 with a .330 on-base percentage as a team in September.
The Tigers bullpen does Tigers bullpen things and the Royals even the series.