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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Embracing the inevitable

The Tigers will not be making the playoffs, but that does not make 2020 a lost season.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

First, the positives: there actually was a 2020 baseball season this year! Not long ago, labor disputes and the pandemic threatened to stop the season from ever happening. And once the year began, the Tigers were actually in the playoff hunt for over half of it! This team has plenty of faults, but for a good stretch, the idea of postseason play was actually within reach.

But perhaps the most encouraging part, however, was the organization’s willingness to call up top prospects. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes, and Daz Cameron are reminders that the best is yet to come for this organization. While no trophies will be won by Detroit in 2020, things went about as well as fans could have asked for.

Of course, there are still plenty of negatives from this season. There is a reason that the Tigers sit six games under .500 and are now well behind the wild card places with under 15 games to go. Those issues have to begin with the starting rotation, where Matthew Boyd and Michael Fulmer, in particular, have fallen significantly from their former heights.

There needs to be legitimate conversation regarding Boyd’s future role. He will not be cut by the Tigers, but he has killed all of his trade value and has painfully proved that his strong start to last season was his (very brief) ceiling. Right now, we’d accept just the career average Boyd we knew from 2016-2018. With plenty of young, promising arms nearly ready to contribute, Boyd will need to turn things around by next spring or a bullpen role may be the best place for the 29-year-old going forward.

Kansas City Royals (20-28) vs. Detroit Tigers (20-26)

Time/Place: 7:10 pm, Comerica Park
SB Nation site: Royals Review
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Probables: LHP Danny Duffy (3-3, 4.24 ERA) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (1-6, 7.63 ERA)

Game 47 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Duffy 46.2 23.9 9.6 4.77 0.5
Boyd 43.2 24.4 7.5 6.14 -0.1

Danny Duffy is having a fine year. Statistically, it looks very similar to his last two seasons; Duffy sported a 4.88 ERA and 4.70 FIP in 2018 and a 4.34 ERA and 4.78 FIP in 2019, which are eerily close to his 4.24 ERA and 4.77 FIP this season. His strikeouts are slightly up at 9.06 K/9 and his WHIP is down to 1.22, but overall he looks similar to the Duffy we’re pretty familiar with.

Duffy is using his changeup and curveball more, and his slider less this year. In the process, he is getting more chases out of the zone, while hitters are swinging less in the strike zone. If he settles in and gets hitters off balance, he’s capable of putting up a dominant performance. More likely, he gives the Royals a solid outing but leaks a few runs along the way.

The Tigers faced Duffy once this year at the end of July, putting up four runs over five innings. Even though he did record eight strikeouts — which is unfortunately a common occurrence for pitchers facing Detroit — it was one of his worst outings this season. Perhaps the Tigers can repeat this performance on Tuesday.

Key matchup: Boyd vs. home runs, as always

This is a boring thing to call out, but it will continue to be the most important factor every time Boyd takes the mound. He continues to put up excellent strikeout and walk numbers, but cannot seem to limit the power against him. Whether he starts or gets moved to the bullpen, Boyd’s struggles with home runs will determine his ability to pitch effectively and could ultimately decide the trajectory of his career.

Boyd has given up 13 homes in 43 23 innings this year for an astronomical 2.68 HR/9 rate. He began to falter in this department last season as well, and at this point it is more than an anomaly. If he keeps getting crushed by the long ball, his tenure as a starter is not going to last, and a reliever who consistently gives up homers is of no use either. This is something he needs to remedy in a big way.

Ed. Note: Danny Duffy apparently missed the team flight to Detroit, and the Royals have decided to skip his start as a disciplinary measure. So it will presumably be a bullpen game for them.