It’s probably incorrect to call Daniel Norris the Tigers’ best starting pitcher in September — that Justin Verlander guy is pretty good, y’all — but we’ve seen far worse opinions lately. Norris has set a blistering pace this month, striking out 24 batters in his last 17 1⁄3 innings en route to three important wins. He has a 3.12 ERA and 3.30 FIP during this stretch, and finally seems to be delivering on the promise Tigers fans have so eagerly awaited since he dazzled in his team debut on August 2, 2015.
It comes as no surprise that Norris’ best stretch has come during his longest healthy stint with the Tigers. Norris has made eight starts since coming off the disabled list in early August, and has allowed a 3.27 ERA during that stretch. While he has not allowed more than three runs in any of those starts, the Tigers are just 5-3 in those games, though they have won each of his last five starts.
Can Detroit make it six in a row on Saturday?
Kansas City Royals (77-77) at Detroit Tigers (83-70)
Yordano Ventura has owned the Tigers this season. The diminutive righthander is 3-0 in five starts against Detroit this year, and owns a 1.76 ERA in 30 2⁄3 innings. He has worked six innings or more in four of those five starts, and has limited Detroit to two runs or fewer in all of them. While the Tigers have managed 31 hits off him so far, only six have gone for extra bases. He has been nearly as dominant in prior seasons as well, and owns a 2.84 ERA in 11 career appearances (10 starts) against the Tigers.
That said, the Tigers have generated some traffic on the basepaths. They are averaging just over a hit per inning against Ventura, and have a .338 on-base percentage in his five outings (their season-long OBP is just .328). Unfortunately, their lack of power has hurt them. The Tigers are slugging just .336 against Ventura this season, good (bad?) enough for an .075 isolated power (ISO). For comparison, Andrew Romine has an .073 ISO in 184 plate appearances this season, while Jose Iglesias’ ISO is .079.
While Ventura threw a complete game in his last start, he has given up 13 runs (12 earned) in his last three outings since last facing Detroit. He only has 13 strikeouts to seven walks in those 20 1⁄3 innings. Couple in the six — six! — walks he gave up in his last outing against the Tigers, and Ventura could be ripe for a bit of regression on Saturday.
Hitter to fear: Kendrys Morales (.312/.351/.526 vs. LHP this season)
Hitter to fail: Alcides Escobar (.224/.269/.327 vs. LHP this season)
While no one likes to see great players get injured, the Tigers are fortunate that lefty masher Lorenzo Cain will not be playing in this series. Cain has hit a blistering .371/.420/.596 against left-handed pitching this season, good enough for a 163 wRC+. There are still several others who have done plenty of damage against southpaws this year, though. Kendrys Morales leads the way with a 131 wRC+ in nearly 200 plate appearances, but Brett Eibner, Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Paulo Orlando are all at 117 wRC+ or better.
Between the Tigers’ inability to solve Yordano Ventura and the Royals’ extreme lineup splits — they have a 100 wRC+ against lefties this year compared to 82 wRC+ vs. righties — this matchup doesn’t look good for Detroit. Friday’s lackluster showing aside, the Royals offense has been humming along this month, scoring 4.67 runs per game. They will have several players in their lineup who have demolished left-handed pitching this year, which puts even more pressure on the Tigers’ lineup to produce. Daniel Norris has been hot lately, but one wonders when his gaudy 34 percent strikeout rate in September will come back to earth.
The Tigers’ win streak ends at five.
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