Though it is not the Kansas City Royals sitting atop the American League Central, it still feels like the Detroit Tigers need to take care of their division foe if they want to make their way to the playoffs. After dropping five of the seven matchups in the first half -- all in Kansas City -- the Tigers will have a chance for some redemption over the weekend and the next few months.
The Tigers certainly looked up for the task on Friday night, taking a 4-2 win behind an excellent start by Justin Verlander. The Tigers’ ace racked up 10 strikeouts while offense showed up just in time, as Detroit began the second half on the right foot.
However, aside from Verlander and Michael Fulmer, the rest of the Tigers' rotation does not currently inspire much confidence. Unless an acquisition or two is made before the trade deadline, the Tigers have no choice but to hope that their starters can do enough to just keep the team in the game. Matchups like Saturday's will be a frequent occurrence down the stretch, with the team trying to salvage a win despite featuring a less-than-exciting starter.
Kansas City Royals (45-44) at Detroit Tigers (47-43)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Danny Duffy (4-1, 3.09 ERA) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (2-8, 4.58 ERA)
Though he made 24 starts in 2015, Danny Duffy began 2016 in the bullpen, looking to become the next great Royals reliever. However, shakiness at the back end of the rotation led him back to being a starter just a month into the season. Duffy pitched 18 innings over the course of 16 games out of the pen with a quite productive stat line. His 3.00 ERA, 2.40 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP were accompanied by 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and 0.50 home runs per nine, leading the Royals to give him another shot in the rotation.
Long story short, Duffy took the opportunity and ran with it. Since his first start on May 15, Duffy has been excellent. He has recorded a 3.11 ERA and 3.73 FIP and owns a stellar 24.1 percent K-BB% while allowing just a .225 batting average against. Though it took a few starts for Duffy to get stretched out, two of his last three outings before the All-Star Game lasted at least eight innings with just two runs apiece. Looking at his overall 2016 numbers, Duffy leads the Royals' starters in ERA, FIP, K/9, BB/9, and fWAR.
The one area where Duffy has struggled a bit since moving back to the rotation is his 1.41 home runs per nine innings (HR/9) allowed. He has allowed homers in over half of his starts, including three solo shots against the Tigers exactly one month ago. Duffy owns a career 0.94 HR/9 rate and has not ended a season with a figure above 1.0 since his rookie year, so whether this trend continues remains to be seen.
Hitter to fear: Eric Hosmer (.417/.588/.500 in 17 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Kendrys Morales (.231/.231/.462 in 13 plate appearances)
Has Mike Pelfrey turned the corner? While no one should expect anything world-breaking, Pelfrey has quietly put up a 3.88 ERA over his last 10 starts while averaging almost 6 1/3 innings per start. Sure, his 4.95 FIP, 1.8 K-BB%, and .321 batting average against are far from encouraging, but maybe Pelfrey has enough to hang in there down the stretch. He has made just one start against the Royals this season, giving up three runs over five innings, taking the loss in mid-April.
While Duffy ended the first half on a high note, Pelfrey turned in a pair of one-run outings himself before the break. Still, it is difficult to get too excited about a starter with a .324 BABIP facing a high-contact, high-average team like the Royals. Meanwhile, Duffy has been the great since moving to the rotation, but he is not invincible. The Tigers’ offense is capable of hitting anyone, and they will likely need to put up a handful of runs if they are going to win the game.
Pelfrey pitches better than expected but the Royals do enough to take the win.