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Game 66 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

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Justin Verlander takes the mound in search of his seventh win of the year as the Tigers travel to Kauffman Stadium.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers (33-32) at Kansas City Royals (35-30)

Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB Network, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Justin Verlander (6-5, 3.77 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (2-1, 2.94 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Verlander 86.0 26.2 7.0 3.46 2.0
Duffy 49.0 30.1 5.1 3.12 1.0

Danny Duffy has had a rather up-and-down career as a member of the Royals. He broke into the majors as a hotshot young prospect in 2011, but struggled through his rookie season. A promising sophomore year was cut short when Duffy underwent Tommy John surgery, which cost him most of 2012 and 2013. He posted solid numbers in 2014 and 2015, but his peripherals were a bit shaky, with an FIP nearly a full run higher than his ERA over those two years.

So, imagine my surprise when I see that Duffy's 2016 peripherals look like they belong to Clayton Kershaw. The Royals' 27-year-old lefty has nearly doubled his strikeout rate this year while almost halving his walk rate, resulting in a 5.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranks fourth in baseball if you drop the qualifier to 40 innings pitched.

Is this improvement for real? Odds are Duffy won't continue to pitch like 2015 Chris Sale for the rest of the season, but FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan noticed some big changes, including a move to pitch exclusively out of the stretch in hopes of better repeating his mechanics.

Duffy has flirted with a good strike rate before, but never while limiting contact like this. Over Duffy’s six starts, he’s thrown 71% strikes, while allowing 71% contact. You do have to think about the hitters he’s faced, but those are two lines you don’t expect to intersect. I’ve never even though about those lines intersecting before. Which is not to say that they don’t, or haven’t, but I know it’s uncommon. Duffy has been more in control than ever.

This is bad news for the Tigers, especially when you consider he has already been pretty stinking good against them. Detroit hitters are batting .206/.290/.348 in 279 plate appearances against Duffy, and he has limited them to a 3.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 14 meetings. His command has been a problem in past appearances, but if the mechanical issues have been fixed, it could mean lights out for a Tigers offense that has been frustratingly bad against left-handed pitching this season.

Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.477/.457/.773 in 46 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alcides Escobar (.182/.217/.227 in 71 plate appearances)

The Royals are without Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon in this series, but that may actually be a good thing for them in this matchup. Neither Gordon nor Moustakas has hit well in their respective careers, with the latter putting up a putrid .418 OPS in 59 plate appearances. Verlander has also held players like Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain in check.

Then there's Salvador Perez, who is hitting a cool .477 off Verlander. He and designated hitter Kendrys Morales (1.000 OPS in 34 plate appearances) represent the bulk of the Royals' past damage against Verlander, who has a career 2.87 ERA at Kauffman Stadium.

Outlook

The Tigers' poor splits against Duffy in his career don't make a lot of sense. He has allowed a lot more power to right-handed batters throughout his career, and the Tigers have always been flush with right-handed power. Even this season, Duffy is still allowing a fair number of extra base hits to right-handed hitters, including all six of the home runs he has allowed. If he can limit the number of baserunners he allows -- can that 5.1 percent walk rate stick? -- he should be able to keep pace with Verlander.

Prediction

The offense disappears and the Tigers drop their second in a row.

★★★

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