On Monday, we got a firsthand look at the interesting dichotomy a full rebuild provides. The Tigers were out-played for most of their game against the Kansas City Royals, and were behind 7-3 entering the ninth inning. Their pitching staff continued to struggle, and the offense was not able to mount much of an attack against Royals starter Jake Junis.
However, we also saw promising performances from young players. Nicholas Castellanos — who is still only 25 years old, remember — hit a three-run homer to make things interesting in the ninth inning. Jeimer Candelario had his best game with the Tigers to date, collecting three hits and a walk. We even saw the major league debut of pitching prospect Artie Lewicki, the first player from the Tigers’ 2014 draft class to reach the major leagues.
While Lewicki’s debut didn’t go as planned, these are the silver linings we need to draw from games over the next couple years. The team is (probably) only going to get worse before it gets better, and only viewing things in terms of wins and losses can drive a fan insane.
And, let’s face it: watching too many games like Tuesday’s matchup will certainly expedite that process.
Kansas City Royals (68-68) at Detroit Tigers (58-79)
Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Jason Vargas (14-9, 3.87 ERA) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-3, 6.95 ERA)
Game 138 Pitching Matchup
Believe it or not, Jason Vargas was an All-Star in 2017. He won 12 games and had a 2.62 ERA in the first half, and limited opponents to a .664 OPS in 17 starts. Unfortunately for him, things have swung wildly in the opposite direction. Since July 1, Vargas has allowed a 7.20 ERA in 10 starts. This includes a six-run drubbing at the hands of these Tigers on July 17, his shortest start of the season to date. Vargas has given up six runs on two other occasions during this stretch, and has allowed four runs in six of those 10 outings.
Neither of Vargas’ performances have been sustainable this year. His first half FIP was a full run higher than his ERA, suggesting that some regression was imminent. However, his second half swoon has been a huge over-correction, and his FIP since the All-Star break is over a run and a half lower than his ERA. Water finds its level at some point, and we may see Vargas reach that point in September.
On the other hand, the Tigers have had Vargas’ number throughout his career. He has a 6.03 ERA against them in 11 starts, and they are hitting a collective .309/.356/.526 in 271 plate appearances. Things have been slightly better for him at Comerica Park, but he still has an ERA over 5 in five starts. The current roster doesn’t have much experience against him — Ian Kinsler is responsible for 66 of the 96 total plate appearances current Tigers have against Vargas — but Mikie Mahtook and Nick Castellanos have also previously homered off of the Royals’ lefthander.
Key matchup: Anibal Sanchez vs. getting outs
Even if the Tigers tag Vargas for several runs, it may not mean anything if Sanchez gives them all back in the next inning. The 33-year-old righthander has struggled something fierce against major league hitters over the past few years, and things have not gotten any better this season. While he has maintained a solid strikeout rate, he is allowing 2.67 home runs per nine innings. In a more competitive environment, I would recommend the Tigers keep Sanchez on a very short leash. We may still see this — this is his first start since he suffered a hamstring injury in August — especially if he is laboring early in the game.
Most of this game will come down to whether Anibal Sanchez can get outs. The Tigers offense could make things a bit easier on their beleaguered starter by putting a few early runs across against Vargas, as they have done so often in the past. They still have several lefty mashers remaining on the roster, including James McCann (170 wRC+), Castellanos (141 wRC+), and Ian Kinsler (129 wRC+). Even if their pitching isn’t up to snuff, the offense should still provide a stiff test for opposing staffs down the stretch.
Lots of runs, but probably more for Kansas City.