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Game 68 Preview: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

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Matt Boyd and Edinson Volquez face off on national TV on Saturday.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers don't tell the whole story with Matt Boyd. He has a 4.91 ERA this season, but has pitched better than that figure, taking a pair of no-hitters into the middle innings earlier this year. His advanced metrics suggest he is a replacement level pitcher, but don't show some of the awkward swings Boyd's deceptive delivery have induced. A .257 BABIP and 21.5 percent soft contact rate tell part of the story, but don't paint the whole picture.

This doesn't mean Boyd is better than the numbers say. In truth, we still don't know what kind of pitcher Boyd can be at the major league level. He has struggled against right-handed hitters and hasn't been able to get through an opposing lineup three times, and his issues with the home run ball have reared their ugly head at times. Tigers fans are relatively split on whether Boyd should remain in the rotation or be jettisoned elsewhere.

That picture may become clearer on Saturday. Of any team, the Kansas City Royals should have a good idea of what Boyd features; this matchup will be their fourth meeting since Boyd first donned a Tigers uniform last August. Nearly any statistic you cherrypick shows the Royals have a clear advantage, and they are one of the toughest home teams to beat in baseball.

Can Boyd continue to defy the stats in this game?

Detroit Tigers (34-33) at Kansas City Royals (36-31)

Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: FOX, MLB.TVTigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matt Boyd (0-1, 4.91 ERA) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (6-6, 3.90 ERA)

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 25.2 18.2 10.0 5.39 0.0
Volquez 85.1 18.3 9.0 4.01 1.1

Earlier this season, Edinson Volquez stifled a struggling Tigers lineup for seven shutout innings, giving his Royals a 4-0 win. The outing lowered Volquez's ERA to 1.09, and some started to wonder if we were seeing a new version of Volquez. He lit up the radar gun on Opening Night against the New York Mets and struck out 10 in his second start of the season, resulting in a shiny 2.85 FIP at the time.

Then he gave up eight runs on 12 hits in the start immediately following his dominant performance against the Tigers, because baseball.

Since that start, the Royals have seen a more familiar version of "Steady Eddie." He has a 4.20 ERA and 4.37 FIP in nine starts since May 1, numbers nearly identical to his career rates. His peripherals during this stretch -- notably, a 52.4 percent ground ball rate -- are similar to those he posted in 2014 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a season that revitalized his career. His ERA hasn't followed suit, in part because opponents are hitting over 30 points higher with runners in scoring position than he conceded in 2014.

Part of Volquez's struggles (if you want to call them that) are due to how he is being used. Volquez has always had trouble getting through the opposing batting order a third time, something Tigers fans are very familiar with. Last season, 28.1 percent of the 850 batters Volquez faced were coming through the lineup a third or fourth time. This season, that figure is up to 31.6 percent. Opponents are batting .286 in those appearances compared to .237 the first two times through.

Regardless of why Volquez is facing more hitters the third time through the lineup -- my hypothesis involves a Royals bullpen that isn't quite as deep as it was in 2015 -- Tigers fans should stay patient in this matchup. Volquez can be beaten; it just takes a few innings sometimes.

Hitter to fear: Kendrys Morales (.667/.667/1.333 in 9 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Salvador Perez (.125/.125/.125 in 8 plate appearances)

Things didn't go so well for Matt Boyd in his first tour of major league duty last summer. After tossing seven shutout innings against the Royals in his Tigers debut, the eventual World Series champs tagged him for nine runs on 16 hits in their next two meetings. We saw Boyd adjust on the fly to great effect in that second meeting, but he lasted just one inning the third time he faced the Royals. Kendrys Morales did the brunt of the damage, with six hits in nine at-bats, and Lorenzo Cain also homered off Boyd.

Outlook

No matter what set of statistical splits you choose to look at, this matchup doesn't bode well for Matt Boyd. The Royals are 23-8 at home and hitting .283/.335/.435 in such games. They are hitting .273/.322/.417 against left-handed pitching, and obliterating lefty starters at a .292/.347/.448 clip. Right-handed hitters have a .779 OPS against Boyd this season, and are hitting .272/.337/.528 off him in his young career. He is 0-3 with a 10.50 ERA and 2.07 WHIP in seven career road starts. This could get ugly.

Prediction

The Royals cruise to their second win in a row.

★★★

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