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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: No, the Tigers aren’t going to ‘catch’ the Royals in the standings

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Detroit’s chances at a second consecutive No. 1 overall pick are all but kaput.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Minnesota Twins Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, we said it was nearly impossible that the Detroit Tigers lose enough games to finish the year with baseball’s worst record — thereby receiving the No. 1 pick in the following year’s MLB draft. Even on this date in 2017, the Tigers were eight games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the standings.

Yet they ended the year with baseball’s worst record. Welcome to Detroit, Casey Mize.

This year is another animal, though. The Tigers have a worse record at this point than they did last season, but they are still 13 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals in the AL Central standings, and 15 12 games clear of the Baltimore Orioles in the race for the 2019 No. 1 overall pick. It ain’t happening.

And I don’t know that I want it to. While having their choice of any amateur talent in the game is nice — not to mention the bonus pool perks that come at No. 1 overall — last August and September were miserable. The Tigers were hardly competitive in any game, and were quite unwatchable for nearly two months. I don’t want to go through that again. It’s much more fun to beat your rivals, especially as they toil away in their own mediocrity.

But if Alcides Escobar wants to tally a four-hit game and then sign a five-year extension? I’m all for that too.

Detroit Tigers (53-78) at Kansas City Royals (40-91)

Time/Place: 8:15 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Matthew Boyd (8-11, 4.09 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Junis (6-12, 4.70 ERA)

Game 132 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Boyd 141.0 21.9 7.3 3.91 2.5
Junis 138.0 21.9 6.6 4.84 0.6

The summer months have not been kind to Jake Junis. Back when he last faced the Tigers in May, he tossed seven solid innings to record his fourth win of the season. He had a 3.18 ERA after that start, and was looking like a true breakout candidate, one that would give the Royals a nice 1-2 punch atop their rotation with Danny Duffy. Junis scuffled a bit in his next couple starts, but still finished May with a respectable 3.61 ERA. His 4.67 FIP was a little high, but other advanced metrics were closer to his actual numbers at the time. In other words, he seemed legit.

Then things kind of fell apart. Junis was rocked for six runs in consecutive starts in June, and gave up five more in another outing later in the month. His opponents — the Athletics, Astros, and Brewers — each hit three home runs apiece in those outings. The Cleveland Indians delivered the knockout blow on July 2, scoring nine runs (eight earned) on eight hits in 5 13 innings. Junis was then placed on the disabled list with lower back inflammation, and he missed three weeks of action.

Things have gotten slightly better for the 25-year-old righthander recently. He struggled a bit after coming off the disabled list, but has settled down to hold opponents to a 2.45 ERA over his last four starts. He has 26 strikeouts to just five walks in those 22 innings, and opponents have only managed a .668 OPS despite running a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .357. He hasn’t been quite as efficient recently as he was earlier in the season — he only has one start of six innings or more since late June — but the issues that plagued him earlier in the season appear to be gone for the moment.

Key matchup: Both offenses vs. scoring runs

If you’re looking for a high-scoring matchup filled with tense late-game moments and numerous lead changes, this game isn’t for you. The Tigers and Royals are the two worst offensive teams in the American League this season, with wRC+ figures of 82 and 83, respectively, on the year. Detroit has had baseball’s worst offense for over two months now, and are a whopping 25 percent below league average away from home. The Royals haven’t been much better at Kauffman Stadium, however, with a paltry 85 wRC+ in their home games, worst in the AL. No AL team has hit fewer home runs at home this year than the Royals, and the Tigers sit dead-last in baseball with just 104 dingers of their own.

If anyone is going to score, it will likely be the Royals. They have been slightly better lately, with an 87 wRC+ over the past 30 days and an ISO that sits 20th among MLB teams (yup, that’s an improvement). Matthew Boyd hasn’t pitched well in his career at Kauffman Stadium, with a 7.99 ERA in seven starts — though most of those came against much better Royals lineups.

Prediction

Junis out-duels Boyd in a low-scoring affair.

Gameday reading