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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Win it for Victor Martinez

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Martinez added some sizzle to an otherwise mundane matchup when he announced this would be his final game.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Detroit Tigers Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

I had a lot of trouble writing Friday’s game preview. With both the Tigers and Royals on pace for 95-plus losses and a pair of struggling veterans on the mound, the game wasn’t exactly rife with storylines. And it played out as you might expect.

We were in danger of the same on Saturday, too. Righthander Jake Junis, Kansas City’s starter on Saturday, is a bit younger and more exciting than Ian Kennedy, but not overly so. He has has dominated the Tigers, but his numbers are otherwise unremarkable.

Then, Victor Martinez gave us a big, juicy narrative when he announced that Saturday will be the final game of his career. The Tigers will honor him on the field before the game, and he wants his last game to be in front of the home fans at Comerica Park.

While the past couple years haven’t been kind to Martinez, he has earned his place in Tigers lore. He nearly won an MVP award in 2014, and was a key cog in the Tigers machine that won four consecutive AL Central titles and made it to the ALCS three years in a row.

So, Tigers, you know what to do. Send Victor Martinez out a winner, and give the fans one last chance to remember him as the feared hitter he was when hitting behind Miguel Cabrera in a loaded Tigers lineup. A dinger or two from Martinez himself wouldn’t hurt either.

And if you want to let him manage on Sunday, we’re down for that too.

Kansas City Royals (53-101) at Detroit Tigers (62-92)

Time/Place: 6:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jake Junis (8-12, 4.42 ERA) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (7-8, 4.41 ERA)

Game 156 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Keller 133.1 16.9 8.4 3.53 2.4
Norris 34.2 25.6 9.6 4.57 0.2

As mentioned above, Junis has dominated the Tigers in his young career. He is a perfect 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in four starts against them this season, and has limited them to a .511 OPS in 31 innings. The current roster is hitting even worse than that over Junis’ career — more on that below — and the Tigers offense has managed just six extra-base hits in 115 plate appearances.

The rest of Junis’ season hasn’t gone nearly as well. Since June 1, he has a 4.98 ERA in 97 23 innings, and that includes a dominant complete game victory against the Tigers on August 28. He has nearly a strikeout per inning in this stretch, but has allowed 20 home runs in those 17 starts. While the home run rate seems a little high, it is understandable when you realize that Junis is allowing hard contact on nearly half of all balls in play.

Key matchup: Junis vs. Victor Martinez (who else?)

Martinez is one of four Tigers with at least 10 career plate appearances against Junis, and they have not gone well. The current Tigers roster is hitting .178/.206/.267 against Junis, and Martinez is even worse, at just .133/.235/.133. His walk rate isn’t all that surprising — Junis has walked lefties nearly twice as often as right-handed batters this season — but a homer or two might be a tough ask; Junis generates more ground balls against left-handed hitters, and a lower home run rate to boot.

Prediction

Martinez and the Tigers win a low-scoring matchup with some late fireworks.

Gameday reading