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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Is this momentum?

The Tigers have won — get this — two in a row!

MLB: Detroit Tigers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into July, the Tigers can safely be classified as sellers. It is most likely in the best interest of the club to trade away their veterans at the deadline, a topic the Bless You Boys staff has been talking about quite a bit of late. This fate was sealed by an incredibly painful road trip that saw Detroit lose eight of nine, winning only the last game against the San Diego Padres three days ago. That victory was followed by another win last night.

This “winning” thing feels a little strange.

Savor the excitement of beating one of the hottest teams in the American League and seeing a fairly good performance from Justin Verlander while it lasts. Odds are not very high that the Tigers will be able to win the next. The Royals have taken 15 of their last 23 contests, winning every single series they have contested in the month of June.

They are safely the hottest team in a poor AL Central, and possibly one of the hottest in the league, coming back from a terrible start that seemed to portend a deadline selloff. How can the Tigers manage to overcome them?

Detroit Tigers (34-42) vs Kansas City Royals (37-38)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m. Comerica Park

SB Nation blog: Royals Review

Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network

Pitching Matchup: LHP Daniel Norris (4-5, 4.66 ERA) vs. RHP Ian Kennedy (1-6, 4.95 ERA)

Game 76 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP WAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP WAR
Norris 77.1 21.30% 9.80% 4.01 1.3
Junis 67.1 20.40% 11.40% 5.62 -0.1

Daniel Norris has been annoying this season. He ended the 2016 campaign with a streak of 13 straight games allowing three earned runs or less, seemingly establishing himself as the Tigers’ #3 starter, a true major leaguer. However, in a season that has seen the Tigers collectively fall on their faces, Norris has not been exempt. He has shown flashes of being the player that prospect evaluators had hoped he would become for years. Most of the time, though, his command has been off and he’s gotten knocked around.

Lucky for the Tigers, Kennedy is no ace either. His middling ERA of 4.95 isn’t exactly something to write home about, and it hides a FIP that climbs nearly a run higher yet. He is a nearly ideal pitcher for the Tigers to face today. He walks a lot of batters, 2.9% more than the league average. This will be coming against the team that ranks seventh in BB% in the American League.

Not only that, Kennedy is second in all of baseball in fly ball percentage among pitchers who have thrown a minimum of 40 innings. That portends bad things when paired with the fact that he throws the fastball 61.4% of the time and will be facing a power-hitting, heater-loving team. This could be a very favorable cocktail of factors for Detroit’s offense.

Key matchup: Daniel Norris vs. Himself

Despite having won so many games lately, the Kansas City Royals do not bat well. Over the month of June, they rank 17th in team wRC+ with a mark of 101. That figure drops to 82-18% below average — when the range of dates considered is narrowed to only include games in the last week, placing them 21st. If Norris is able to find his command, he should be able to steamroll the opposing lineup. If he starts to give up free passes, though, it will spell a short outing for him, something that no one wants to see.

Outlook

This game, and really this entire series, have little effect on the way this season is going to shake out for the Tigers. They are probably going to be sellers when the deadline comes regardless of what happens today. However, it would be nice for Detroit to get a quality outing from their young starter and the low pressure and relatively weak opponent are a good time to ask for such a game. On the other end of the ticket, every game that the Royals play form here until the the middle of July will make an impact on their club’s future; whether they tear down or make a one last run hangs precariously in the balance. This particular roster wants to win badly, and for good reason.

Prediction

Neither Norris nor the bullpen are great and gets tagged for a few runs, but Kennedy is worse, falling prey to the longball. The offense will cling onto the lead for a skin-of-the-teeth win. Final score: 5-4