If you're looking to name a Most Valuable Player for the Tigers during the first half of the season, Ian Kinsler is probably your man. He's hitting .294/.351/.508 and leads the team in home runs, RBI, and runs scored. He also leads the team in WAR, understandably. Reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated.
However, if you wanted to name Michael Fulmer the team's MVP thus far, I wouldn't argue. According to Baseball Reference's version of WAR, Fulmer and Kinsler are neck-and-neck for the team lead. When you consider the former didn't even debut until late April and didn't become Michael F***in' Fulmer until late May, he has provided most of his value in a much shorter period of time. The Tigers' rotation has been crumbling around him for most of the season, and the team would likely be selling off spare parts if not for his amazing performance.
FanGraphs' version of WAR doesn't view this hypothetical race in the same light. Fulmer has accumulated just 1.6 fWAR this year, third on the team behind Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann. Fulmer's large FIP-ERA difference is the reason for this WAR gulf, and it signals that he is probably in for some regression in the second half. Will that to start correct today as he navigates the American League for a second time? Or can he deliver a series win for the Tigers?
Kansas City Royals (46-44) at Detroit Tigers (47-44)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV (Free Game of the Day), Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Yordano Ventura (6-7, 5.15 ERA) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (9-2, 2.11 ERA)
Prior to the Tigers' last meeting with Yordano Ventura, we pointed out Ventura's penchant for dominance following his all-too-frequent dust-ups with opposing teams. Ventura and Manny Machado had words for one another in an early June matchup, then Ventura went out and limited the Chicago White Sox and Tigers to one combined run with 15 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings in his next two starts (and then he served his suspension for throwing at Machado).
Fortunately for the Tigers, this post-fracas stretch hasn't been as lethal as in years past. Ventura was rocked for seven runs in 5 1/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on June 28, and has allowed an 8.40 ERA in his past three starts. If you include those two aforementioned games against divisional foes, Ventura's post-brawl ERA is just 4.75. Better, but not by much.
The most puzzling aspect of Ventura's performance is that, outside of a 10-strikeout performance against the White Sox, he hasn't been putting hitters away like someone with an 80-grade fastball should. Ventura has just three starts with six strikeouts or more this season, and two of those were his first two outings of the season. He has fanned five Tigers in each of his two meetings with Detroit this year, but is allowing a hit per inning and a 1.32 WHIP. The Tigers' offense hasn't been able to put much together, though; of their 12 hits off Ventura in 11 1/3 frames, 11 are singles.
Tigers hitter to fear: Victor Martinez (.263/.333/.579 in 21 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Jose Iglesias (.143/.143/.143 in 14 plate appearances)
Victor Martinez is the only Tigers batter to homer off Yordano Ventura. Ironically, both of Martinez's homers off the young righthander came in the same game in 2015, Martinez's worst offensive season to date. The Tigers are hoping Ventura can help rouse both Martinez and Miguel Cabrera (.385/.429/.462 in 14 plate appearances), who have been struggling lately. Martinez is hitting just .216/.255/.381 over the past month, while Cabrera has a .619 OPS in July.
Fulmer didn't have his best stuff in his first meeting with the Royals, and while his final line (5.2 IP, 1 ER) wasn't bad, he walked four and looked like he was ready for a break. The Tigers skipped his next turn through the rotation, and the results have been stellar. Fulmer has struck out 12 while allowing just seven hits and two runs in his last 13 innings, both Tigers victories. With the Royals more susceptible to high-octane stuff than ever before -- their 10.4 percent swinging strike rate is fifth-highest in the AL -- a well-rested Fulmer should be able to keep on cruising.
The Tigers get to Ventura in the middle innings and win a low-scoring game.
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