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Tigers vs. Royals Series Preview: Detroit still clinging to slim playoff hopes in Kansas City

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The Tigers are still somehow on the periphery of a playoff race, but is that a good thing?

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

The Detroit Tigers did themselves no favors over the weekend. This seems odd to say after winning a series, but taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays helped the Tigers make up ground in a slog of an AL Central race. Combined with a win over the Kansas City Royals in the series opener, the Tigers have won three in a row. They are just six games out of first place, and five games back in the Wild Card standings, which seems amazing if you consider how lackluster this Tigers team has been for large stretches of 2017.

This inconsistent play is why these last few games could be detrimental to their outlook at large. Should the Tigers climb back into the division race — a good finish to this series would certainly help — the front office might not be so keen to sell off spare parts at the trade deadline.

Luckily, there are a lot of obstacles in their way. Detroit currently sits in fourth place in the division, and is looking up at nine other AL teams in the Wild Card standings. If the front office sees things the way we do, nothing short of a massive winning streak over the next two weeks should change their mind on selling at the deadline.

While they provided little resistance on Monday, the Royals have been a formidable opponent for the last six weeks. They went 17-9 in June, and were 5-1 in July before a recent skid. They are just 1-3 on their current homestand, which finishes with three games against the lowly Chicago White Sox after this series against Detroit.

The Royals will have even more to say about the Tigers’ deadline priorities; these two teams face off again at Comerica Park next week.

Pitching Matchups:

Game 1: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (5-7, 5.87 ERA) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (12-3, 2.62 ERA)

As I mentioned in Monday’s game recap, one of these starters looked like an All-Star. Jordan Zimmermann struck out seven in 6 23 innings, and was never really threatened by a Royals offense that has, admittedly, been one of the most anemic units in baseball this year. However, that’s a stark contrast from Jason Vargas, who coughed up six runs in his second consecutive outing. The lefthander was always a regression candidate — his FIP was a full run higher than his ERA even before Monday’s shellacking — and his fall to earth may be happening before our eyes.

Game 2: LHP Matt Boyd (2-5, 5.69 ERA) vs. LHP Travis Wood (1-2, 6.06 ERA)

Four years ago, Travis Wood was an All-Star. It was a bit of a fluke, as he managed just a 2.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he posted a 3.11 ERA in 200 innings all the same. Two years ago, Wood was arguably better, striking out 118 batters in 100 23 innings.

Wood hasn’t been anywhere close to the same pitcher this year. Through 32 23 innings, he has allowed 23 runs (22 earned) on 40 hits. He has walked 19 batters in that span, with just 24 strikeouts to his name. His four-inning start against the Minnesota Twins on July 2 was his first of the year, but he should be a mainstay in the rotation following Nathan Karns’ season-ending surgery.

...or until they go for broke and trade for a starter. Please gut your farm system again, Dayton.

Game 3: RHP Justin Verlander (5-7, 4.66 ERA) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (4-8, 5.02 ERA)

Those glancing at surface level stats might think that the Royals should bump Jason Hammel from their rotation after a trade, not Travis Wood. Hammel, a 34-year-old righthander, has a 5.02 ERA in 18 starts this year and has a 17.8 percent strikeout rate, his lowest since 2013. However, since the Tigers scored four runs off him in 4 13 innings on May 29, he has been much better. He has a 3.83 ERA in his last eight starts, with 41 strikeouts to 11 walks in those 49 13 innings. He is working deeper into games too, with all but one of those starts going into the sixth inning. He has a history of getting hot for long stretches — his first half in 2014 with the Chicago Cubs comes to mind — which could bode well for Kansas City’s playoff chances.

Game 4: RHP Michael Fulmer (10-6, 3.06 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (5-6, 3.51 ERA)

Good luck, hitters.

Who’s hot: Eric Hosmer

We saw a glimpse of it on Monday, but Eric Hosmer has been red hot for the past month or so. He took Warwick Saupold deep for his 13th home run of the season, an otherwise meaningless solo shot that only cut his team’s deficit to six. However, that was Hosmer’s eighth home run since June 10, shortly after this hot streak unofficially began. Since June 1, Hosmer is hitting a torrid .325/.380/.550 with the aforementioned eight home runs and 10 doubles in 39 games. He has improved his OPS by over 150 points since that point

Who’s not: Jorge Soler

This one seems a bit obvious, as Soler was demoted to the minors prior to Monday’s game. He is hitting just .154/.245/.275 in the major leagues this season, and as our friends at Royals Review point out, he has struck out 34 times in 102 plate appearances. It’s far too early to judge the trade that brought Soler to Kansas City — Wade Davis’ brilliance hasn’t moved the Chicago Cubs into playoff contention, after all — but as one of the pieces that was supposed to hopefully extend KC’s window, the early returns aren’t promising.