Kansas City Royals (78-77) at Detroit Tigers (83-71)
Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Edinson Volquez (10-11, 5.25 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Boyd (6-4, 4.16 ERA)
Four starts into the season, Edinson Volquez looked poised to have a big year, one that would allow him to cash in this offseason. Volquez, who has a $10 million mutual option with the Royals for 2017, was coming off a stellar start against the Tigers. He threw seven shutout innings on April 21, allowing five hits and a walk. This outing lowered his season-long ERA to 1.09. While that would not be sustainable, his 2.85 FIP and an elevated strikeout rate suggested that he could have another great season for the defending champs.
Instead, Volquez has struggled. He came crashing back to earth in his next start, allowing eight runs on 12 hits against the Angels. His ERA steadily rose over the next month, and hovered near 5.00 for most of July and August. There have been moments of brilliance — he tossed seven innings of two-hit ball against the Indians on June 13 — but the disappointment has been far more consistent. Volquez’s second half has been even worse, with a 5.89 ERA and 5.04 FIP in 13 starts. He has allowed at least four runs in nine of those 13 outings, including four of his last five starts.
Volquez’s poor second half has coincided with a drop in fastball velocity. While it’s not extreme — his two-seamer has only dipped by about one mile per hour over the course of the year — the trend line doesn’t follow that of a normal pitcher’s. In particular, Volquez’s velocity has dropped off over the last couple months when most studies suggest it should peak in July or August.
His fastball has also lost some movement, which is likely why opponents are hitting .331 with a .518 slugging average off his two-seamer this year. His changeup and curveball have not lost much action, making the flat fastball all the more strange.
Hitter to fear: Kendrys Morales (.727/.727/1.364 in 11 plate appearances)
Hitter to fail: Salvador Perez (.200/.200/.200 in 10 plate appearances)
Boyd threw seven shutout innings against the Royals in his Tigers debut last August, but things quickly unraveled from there. The eventual World Series champions tagged him for three runs in their next meeting, and six runs in one inning in September 2015. The Royals got the better of Boyd again in their lone 2016 meeting, scoring seven runs on eight hits in just 3 2⁄3 innings. Lorenzo Cain and Kendrys Morales have both homered off the Tigers’ lefthander already, but only Morales will play on Sunday.
Between Saturday’s ninth inning collapse and the heartbreaking news of Jose Fernandez’s death early Sunday morning — Jose Iglesias has already been scratched from the Tigers’ lineup — staying focused could prove more difficult than usual for the Tigers. Luckily, the Tigers have gotten to Volquez before, scoring nine runs in his last two starts against them. Boyd has struggled with the Royals in the past as well, but has limited right-handed hitters to a .317 wOBA in the second half.
Boyd struggles early but the Tigers scratch out a win.
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