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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: The Tigers are winning the tank race

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Detroit has moved well “ahead” of Kansas City in the race for next year’s No. 1 pick.

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Detroit Tigers v Texas Rangers Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images

Throughout the season, we have been using these series against the Kansas City Royals as something of a benchmark for how the Tigers’ season is going. While we’d all be much happier if the Tigers were winning, at this point in the year, it’s probably just better for them to lose enough games to clinch the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft. #TankForTorkelson and all, it seems.

Anyway, the Royals come into this because when we first started talking about draft position, the Tigers were actually ahead of their division rivals in the AL Central standings. The Royals had won just 20 of their first 65 games, and looked to be in prime position for clinching another top-two draft pick. Since then, however, the Tigers have lost games at an alarming (and perhaps impressive) rate. In the near two months since we first hinted at a tank race, the Tigers have won nine games, and lost 40. Kansas City, meanwhile, has more than doubled their win total, and sits six games ahead of the Tigers in the standings.

Somehow, the Tigers are still 7-5 against them this year. Baseball is weird, man.

Kansas City Royals (41-74) at Detroit Tigers (33-78)

Time/Place: 7:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, ESPN+, fuboTV, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Jorge López (1-7, 6.19 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (6-8, 3.91 ERA)

Game 113 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
López 84.1 21.2 8.2 5.22 0.0
Boyd 138.0 32.6 5.2 3.46 3.8

The whole “starting pitcher” thing didn’t work out very well for Jorge López earlier this year. The 26-year-old righthander made 10 starts across his first 11 appearances this season, but was roughed up to the tune of a 7.07 ERA in 49 23 innings. He struck out nearly a batter per inning, but those that made contact produced a .935 OPS with 12 home runs. As you might expect, Kansas City lost nine of his 10 starts.

Things have been a bit better for López since moving to the bullpen, but not by much. He has allowed a 4.93 ERA in 19 appearances out of the ‘pen this season, and a 5.23 ERA since the Royals took him out of the rotation in late May. He has maintained that solid strikeout rate, cut his walk rate slightly, and nearly halved his home run rate. The result? A decent 4.14 FIP in 34 23 innings as a reliever.

Now, with lefthander Danny Duffy headed to the injured list, López will get another crack at the rotation, and against a subpar offense. He managed one of his two quality starts against the Tigers back in April, but was tagged for four runs across seven innings in another outing at Comerica Park in early May. In all, he has limited Detroit’s offense to a paltry .219/.288/.342 line this year, with just one home run in 19 innings.

Yup, that sounds about right for this offense.

Key matchup: Matthew Boyd vs. the Royals offense

This matchup has been something of a problem for Boyd throughout his career. He tossed seven innings of one-run ball against them in his Tigers debut way back in 2015, but has been roughed up ever since, allowing a 6.29 ERA in 17 starts. Most of those games came against a much better team, of course, but even some of Kansas City’s more recent lineups have given him trouble. The Royals scored 17 runs (14 earned) in 26 13 innings against Boyd last year, and have plated 11 more (10 earned) in 17 innings this season.

Fortunately, Boyd’s peripherals look just fine. He has managed plenty of strikeouts against the Royals (and others) this year, with 26 in 18 innings, and has given up just one home run. At some point, these numbers have to start evening out in his favor, right?

Right?!

Prediction

The Tigers take the series opener behind a strong start from Boyd.