Heading into this weekend’s series, we hinted that the Tigers would be at a major disadvantage at the start of games for the next week. They were (and still are) staring at a gauntlet of starting pitching, including four excellent lefties in Danny Duffy, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon. Add in Royals righthander Yordano Ventura, who has shut the Tigers down in four meetings so far this year, and many were hoping for a split (at best) in the next six games.
However, we’re living in a world where Duffy is mortal and Wade Davis blows saves. The Tigers offense is still capable of great things, especially when Miguel Cabrera looks as dangerous as he did on Friday. Plus, the Tigers have an excellent starting pitcher of their own slated for Saturday’s showdown in Michael Fulmer. The 23-year-old righthander has struggled lately, but has limited the Royals to minimal damage in two previous matchups. Can he keep Kansas City’s offense quiet again?
Detroit Tigers (73-61) at Kansas City Royals (69-65)
Time/Place: 7:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports 1, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (10-5, 2.69 ERA) vs. RHP Yordano Ventura (9-9, 4.33 ERA)
On the surface, Yordano Ventura’s season-long numbers aren’t all that impressive. He has allowed a 4.33 ERA and 4.76 FIP in 149 2⁄3 innings. He is averaging less than six innings per start. He has a 1.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a rather abysmal mark for someone with a fastball that averages 96 miles per hour. He has been worth just 0.9 fWAR, while Baseball Reference is only slightly more forgiving at 1.4 rWAR.
Put him in front of the Tigers, though, and it’s a different story. Ventura has limited the Tigers to just five runs in four meetings this season, a 1.82 ERA in 24 2⁄3 innings. He has posted a 3.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio and is holding the Tigers offense to a .644 OPS, 20 percent better than his season-long numbers. The Tigers are 1-3 in their first four games against Ventura, but Tigers fans will be happy to note that their lone win against him came with Michael Fulmer on the mound.
Ventura has been improving against the rest of the league too. He put up a 2.55 ERA in August, and has a 2.93 ERA since the All-Star break. Ventura’s FIP has not reflected that improvement, but other indicators — improved strikeout and ground ball rates, a lower walk rate, and an xFIP that has decreased by nearly a full run — show that Ventura has been a different pitcher than the one that struggled earlier this year. He is locating the ball down in the zone better than in the first half and throwing his two-seamer more, which explains the big jump in ground ball rate.
Hitter to fear: Alcides Escobar (.348/.375/.609 in last 12 games)
Hitter to fail: Raul Mondesi (.121/.216/.182 in last 11 games)
The Royals were able to produce a 20-9 record in August, and we are still trying to figure out how. They posted a team wRC+ of 84, which ranked 26th among all MLB teams. Alex Gordon, Kendrys Morales, and Alcides Escobar were the only three players above average, while four regular starters — Salvador Perez, Paulo Orlando, Eric Hosmer, and Raul Mondesi — were below the team average. Escobar has been their hottest hitter lately, with a 161 wRC+ over the last two weeks, and four others are at a 119 wRC+ or better.
Kansas City’s .690 win percentage in August was earned by their pitching staff, which yielded just 90 runs in 29 games (3.1 runs per game). Ventura was a big part of this, holding opponents to a 2.55 ERA. His 29:14 strikeout-to-walk ratio still wasn’t pretty, but his ground ball rate finished at a season-high 56.7 percent. By limiting fly balls (and extra-base hits, by extension) Ventura is forcing opponents to nickel-and-dime him for runs. While his strikeout rate isn’t as high as his potentially elite fastball should warrant, he is still an uncomfortable at-bat, and has made life particularly hard on the Tigers this year. Expect runs to be at a premium in this game.
Ventura limits the Tigers again and their win streak comes to an end.