Kansas City Royals (86-62) at Detroit Tigers (69-78)
Time/Place: 1:08 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Pitching Matchup: RHP Kris Medlen (4-1, 3.92 ERA) vs. RHP Alfredo Simon (13-9, 4.91 ERA)
Three years ago, Kris Medlen was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. The Atlanta Braves stuck their then-26-year-old righthander in the bullpen for the first half of the season to limit his innings following Tommy John surgery in late 2010, and were rewarded with a record-breaking second half. Medlen joined their rotation in late July and blitzed the National League for a 9-0 record and 0.97 ERA in 12 starts. He regressed some in 2013 (as expected), but still posted a solid 3.11 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 197 innings, good enough for 2.6 WAR.
With the Braves poised to defend their NL East Division title heading into 2014, Medlen went under the knife for a second Tommy John surgery. Instead of a big payday on the open market last winter, Medlen signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with the Royals. He returned to the majors in late July, nearly 20 months after his last start with the Braves. He spent a month in the bullpen, where he put together a 2.51 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 14 1/3 innings.
Since he moved to the rotation in August, Medlen has allowed a 4.60 ERA. However, seven of the 15 runs he has allowed came in one start, and he has three quality starts in five outings. His stellar command already appears to be intact following the second Tommy John, as he has walked just 6.3 percent of hitters he has faced this season. His two-seam fastball is back to form, helping him generate a 53.5 percent ground ball rate in 43 2/3 total innings.
Given the movement on Alfredo Simon's fastball, it's a wonder that his ground ball rate is only 43.3 percent this season. Simon is at his best when he keeps the ball down in the zone. Only 28 of the 72 extra base hits Simon has allowed have come on pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or below, which constitutes over 50 percent of the pitches he has thrown this season. When he leaves the ball up, it gets punished.
Hitter to fear: Eric Hosmer (.500/.571/1.333 in 7 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Ben Zobrist (.214/.353/.357 in 17 plate appearances)
Despite leading the Tigers in innings pitched and games started, Simon has only faced the Royals one time in 2015. That start came all the way back in April, and it did not go well. Simon allowed six runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings, resulting in his first loss of the season. The Royals have handled him well throughout his career in limited meetings, hitting .276/.344/.534. Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer have both homered off Simon previously.
The Tigers' dominance over the AL Central Division is one of the more puzzling oddities of the 2015 season. Most teams that sport a 37-27 record against their own division are playoff-bound, if not in the thick of the race. The Royals themselves are 37-29 against the Central, and they own the best record in the American League.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have an abysmal 32-51 record with a run differential of -105 against everyone else. They have a chance to take the season series against the Royals today, which doesn't really mean much given their record, but it's kind of funny (especially given their -34 run differential against Kansas City this season).
Bad Simon returns and the Tigers drop the series finale.