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Tigers vs. Royals preview: Tarik Skubal looks to correct course

After a thrilling victory on Saturday courtesy of Riley Greene, the Tigers go for the series win.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Worse than the Detroit Tigers’ record this season, has been the lack of signs of hope over the first three months. The team that general manager Al Avila constructed was intriguing in the preseason because of numerous new faces who were supposed to be key building blocks to a future contending ballclub. Unfortunately, that group of players has barely made an impact at all for myriad reasons.

Other than Saturday afternoon’s hero, Riley Greene, who only just arrived, the real bright spot has been Sunday’s starting pitcher, Tarik Skubal. Yet even the powerful left-hander has fallen into a rough patch recently. His overall numbers still look good, but a month ago Skubal was pitching like a guy who would probably get Cy Young votes. Over his last four starts, he’s suddenly encountered some command issues and teams have really taken advantage. The Royals are a good matchup for him to get back on track.

Neither team’s season is going well, but the Tigers would really like to build off the energy of Greene’s arrival and start turning the page on an extremely discouraging first half. They’re really going to need Tarik Skubal to sort himself out to do it.

Detroit Tigers (30-46) vs. Kansas City Royals (28-48)

Time/Place: 12:05 p.m., Comerica Park
SB Nation Site: Royals Review
Media: Peacock, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: LHP Tarik Skubal (3.75 ERA) vs. RHP Brady Singer (3-3, 4.33 ERA)

Game 77 Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Pitcher IP FIP K% BB% HR/9 fWAR
Skubal 84 2.72 26.1 6.2 0.64 2.4
Singer 54 4.20 22.1 4.5 1.50 0.5

There was so much to like about Tarik Skubal’s development this season, that it was hard to even touch on it all in any depth. He was mixing in his sinker with authority. His changeup had improved movement and was drawing more whiffs. Skubal was getting both his four-seamer and slider in on right-handed hitters effectively. He was throwing a much less predictable mix of pitches with command. As his peripheral numbers still reflect, the last heralded member of the Tigers’ “Big Three” pitching prospects had moderated his home run issues and was absolutely dominating good lineups.

The last four starts have been kind of a mess, however. After three consecutive seven-inning starts of three runs or less, the Toronto Blue Jays broke the spell he had over hitters on June 12, knocking him out after four innings with four runs in. The next time out the Texas Rangers solved him for five innings, scoring five runs. And each of his last two times out he’s failed to get out of the fifth inning.

There isn’t a whole lot of mystery here, however. Skubal’s stuff still looks great. He’s just been out of sync and falling behind hitters with too many waste pitches in the mix, while struggling to get the hard stuff to his glove-side edge. With somewhat complicated mechanics including a pretty good cross-step and a fairly high kick, there may always be some lapses in control, but if he’s got it back locked in on Sunday you can bet the Kansas City Royals are going to have a bad day.

As for his opponent, Brady Singer has become a fairly familiar name now in his third season in the majors. Alex Faedo’s understudy as the Florida Gators won the College World Series in 2017, Singer was drafted by the Royals the next season, both of them the 18th overall pick in the draft. He arrived on the same timeline as Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, making his rookie debut during the shortened 2020 season.

Singer has been pretty consistent in his short time in the major leagues. While not particularly overpowering, Singer’s solid sinker-slider combination, deployed with pretty good command, has made him a generally effective starting pitcher but not a frontline arm just yet.

The right-hander will likely frustrate the Tigers with a steady dose of well-located 94 mph sinkers around the edges of the strike zone. As long as he commands his slider well, he’ll induce plenty of whiffs and weak contact with that as well. His changeup is still a bit of a work in progress but has looked improved at times this year. Here and there Singer has struggled this season when he starts leaving the slider up and it gets hammered. Overall his strikeout rate is on the low side, so hopefully, the Tigers can find the grass with some routine hits. Otherwise expect a day of ample baserunners spoiled by double plays and routine groundouts.

Singer is overall much weaker against lefties. And he’s had a string of shaky starts over the past month. So probably Riley Greene and Victor Reyes should try to homer in this one too. This is a game the Tigers should win, but it’s on Tarik Skubal to bounce back with a strong outing against an offense that has only scored more runs this season than two other teams in baseball; the Tigers and the Oakland Athletics.