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Tigers vs. Royals Preview: Even a salvage job would feel good right now

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The Tigers will try to score some runs for Spencer Turnbull

MLB: New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

This may blow your mind, but the Detroit Tigers technically aren’t even the worst offense in baseball in the early going. Shout out to the Colorado Rockies and their combined 76 wRC+ for checking in two points lower than our home team. The Milwaukee Brewers’ offense, yes they of the 13-8 record, actually has a worse strikeout percentage than the Tigers. Yes, their pitchers have to hit. Don’t nag us with these details. Runs scored? The Tigers hold a 67-62 advantage in total runs over the Washington Nationals. Of course the Nationals have played three fewer games, but we’re in desperate straights here.

It seems trite to say the Tigers need a win on Monday. Still, the Tigers really need a win on Monday. For their own sanity as much as that of the fanbase.

We are going to predict that Jonathan Schoop, Willi Castro, Victor Reyes, and JaCoby Jones have not completely forgotten how to hit, and a month from now this will look like the very mediocre offense we expected, rather than the completely hapless one we’re getting. It may feel better for a streak like this to come at the end of a season, after a player or two has been traded and people have checked out, than at the beginning, but they all count the same in the end.

Still, even Sparky Anderson himself might be willing to violate the 40-game rule watching this mess over the past 10 games. If you feel yourself checking out already, it’s perfectly understandable to take a break and wait for the minor league season to start for your baseball fix. Fortunately, the Tigers are facing a pitcher they should absolutely be able to get to on Monday. Did I just guarantee a no-no for Brad Keller? He of the career 17 percent strikeout rate? Tune in and see.

Ok fine, it’s a 1:10 p.m. ET start, on a Monday in April. You’re probably unlikely to tune in anyway, thus guaranteeing a good day at the plate for the Tigers’ offense.

Detroit Tigers (7-15) vs. Kansas City Royals (13-7)

Time/Place: 1:10 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Royals Review
Media: Bally Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. RHP Brad Keller (1-2, 12.00 ERA)

Game 23 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% HR/9 FIP fWAR
Turnbull 5.0 31.6 10.5 0.0 1.89 0.2
Keller 12.0 13.0 13.0 1.5 6.26 -0.2

Spencer Turnbull emerged from the COVID list and a lengthy stay at the alternate site in Toledo to spin a good one against the Pittsburgh Pirates last Wednesday. Despite a limited pitch count as A.J. Hinch and Chris Fetter build him up to his full workload, Turnbull had no trouble tossing five innings of one-run ball. As is his custom, he kept the Pirates’ offense in the ballpark. Even better, he punched out six with only two walks allowed. We’ll take that ratio every time.

Turnbull remains a fascinating enigma. Dominant much of the time, he still has a tendency to lose his rhythm and throw the ball all over the place for an inning before locking things back down. He has one of the most distinctive, home run resistant fastballs in the game, and has refined his slider into a legitimately good out pitch during parts of four seasons in the major leagues. If he can find just a bit more consistency, the Tigers are going to have a fairly valuable pitcher on their hands.

We can’t make too much of one start, but it was notable that Turnbull was throwing far more sliders last Wednesday than normal. After typically using it around 20 percent of the time his first few seasons, he ramped that up to 34 percent against the Pirates. Turnbull’s velocity was also down a tick from last year, but that’s probably just a symptom of his late start. Whether his fourseam and sinker velocity is fully back this time out or not, heavier doses of the slider make sense for him, as he isn’t using his curveball or changeup much at all these days. By and large he doesn’t need them. Despite some lengthy history now against several Royals hitters, not a single player in their lineup has a home run against him. As long as he’s in control, the Royals are going to have a tough time doing damage.

As for Brad Keller, he’s similar to Turnbull stylistically. This is the seam-shifted wake Super Bowl about to go down as both are highly notable for the freaky late movement on their fastball. Typically, Keller’s fourseam-sinker combo isn’t quite as power packed, however, so far this season his velocity is up a tick to 94.1 mph, which makes him even a bit tougher to barrel up. He’s also leaning heavily on the fastballs, throwing them 72.8 percent of the time, the highest rate of his career. This has cut into his slider usage substantially, but with such a small sample, it may be that he just hasn’t had good feel for the breaking ball yet, rather than a conscious effort to pump fastballs on three of every four pitches.

Like Turnbull, Keller gets a lot of ground balls, and keeps the home runs in check, but unlike Turnbull, his career strikeout rates are downright terrible. Even the Tigers should put the ball in play a lot, but they’re going to have to string together hits and walks to put runs on the board. Expect no dingers, and plenty of small ball, at least until the bullpens get involved.

Key Matchup: The Tigers bullpen vs. Royals hitters

It’s not hard to forecast a pretty low scoring affair in this one. It’s also easy to assume that Spencer Turnbull isn’t going seven innings in this one as they limit his pitch count. This is where things get very dicey for the Tigers. Even if they get to Keller for some runs early on, the bullpen is probably going to be entering a tight, low scoring game. The Tigers really need strong late innings work from the likes of Bryan Garcia, Jose Cisnero, and Gregory Soto to keep the Royals in check and pull a desperately needed win out of their hat.