As the Detroit Tigers enter the second half of the 2016 season, the odds are not in their favor. FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus both give them less than a 30 percent chance of making the postseason, and other advanced metrics aren't much more optimistic. They have been outscored in their first 89 games, and some would argue even overperforming their 46-43 record.
But if you believe that this team can get better -- either at the trade deadline or as players like J.D. Martinez return from injury -- then the schedule sets up well. Forty-two of the Tigers' final 73 games are at Comerica Park, many of which are against competitors in the AL Wild Card race. The Tigers have home series against Kansas City and Houston before the trade deadline, and Boston and Chicago shortly after.
Speaking of Kansas City, the Royals have been one of baseball's best teams at home this season, but a .348 club away from Kauffman Stadium. As fate would have it, the Tigers have nine of their remaining 12 games against the Royals at Comerica Park, where the splits are decidedly in Detroit's favor. Can they kick off this string of home games with a win?
Kansas City Royals (45-43) at Detroit Tigers (46-43)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Ian Kennedy (6-7, 3.97 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (8-6, 4.07 ERA)
When the Royals signed Ian Kennedy to a five-year, $70 million last winter, the hope among their fans was that Kauffman Stadium and some of the other roomier parks in the AL Central would help suppress Kennedy's penchant for allowing home runs in bunches. That... hasn't happened. Kennedy has been more homer prone than ever, allowing 21 home runs in 99 2/3 innings this year. He is on pace to shatter his career-high of 31 dingers allowed, set with the San Diego Padres last season. The homer troubles have ballooned Kennedy's FIP to 5.05, the sixth-highest mark among qualified American League starters.
Oddly, Kennedy's peripherals are otherwise quite similar to what he has done throughout his career. His 24.8 percent strikeout rate is in line with what he did over his two seasons with the Padres, and his 8.0 percent walk rate is a rounding error away from his 7.9 percent career mark. His swinging strike rate, contact rate, and first-pitch strike percentage are all vintage Kennedy.
Even Kennedy's ERA is close to his career norms. He has allowed a 3.97 ERA in 17 starts this season, and has a 3.98 ERA in over 1300 career innings. He is getting a bit lucky, stranding over 80 percent of baserunners -- league average for starting pitchers is around 72 percent -- but it's not entirely unsustainable. Kennedy has allowed a 47.9 percent fly ball rate this season, his highest of any full season in his career. While the elevated fly ball rate explains the home runs, it also helps explain his .259 BABIP, especially with the rangy outfielders on this Royals roster. Opponents are hitting just .229 against him, allowing for more chances to strand baserunners.
Hitter to fear: Salvador Perez (.478/.469/.761 in 49 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Alcides Escobar (.186/.219/.243 in 75 plate appearances)
Justin Verlander has dominated the Royals throughout his career, limiting them to a 3.26 ERA and .645 OPS in 39 meetings. However, one of his typical punching bags is not in the lineup; Mike Moustakas, he of the .190 on-base percentage and .418 OPS against Verlander, tore his ACL earlier this season and is out for the year. There are still a few players around that Verlander has historically dominated, though; Alex Gordon has a .639 OPS in 94 plate appearances against the Tigers' ace, and Alcides Escobar is hitting just .186/.219/.243. Just don't pitch to Salvador Perez.
While they collectively only have a handful of plate appearances against Kennedy, none of the players on the Tigers' active roster has ever homered off the Royals' righthander. This is a bit surprising given how homer-happy Kennedy has been throughout his career, and could potentially be due for a sharp regression in this game. Kennedy has a 5.14 ERA and 6.19 FIP on the road this season, and the Tigers are hitting .281/.344/.460 at Comerica Park. They have maintained relatively even splits against righties and lefties so far this season as well, and Kennedy has allowed an .848 OPS to all opponents since June 1.
The Tigers cruise to an easy win to open the second half.
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