With the AL wildcard just 3.5 games out of reach, the Detroit Tigers (51-54) welcome in the AL’s best team, the Kansas City Royals (62-42) for what could be a pivotal three game series starting today (7.08pm ET, Tuesday).
It has been an interesting season for the Tigers and has featured more downs than ups. For Detroit, their struggles really date back to the end of last year, when they were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Baltimore Orioles.
The Tigers were the AL Central division winners that year for the fourth straight season. The Royals meanwhile, were the upstart wildcard team that went all the way to the World Series, for the first time since 1985. This year however, it looks as if the roles might be reversed as Kansas City holds an 11.5 game lead over Detroit, who is only in third place, 3.5 games behind the Minnesota Twins.
This series could go a long way to determining if last year’s history repeats itself or if it is in fact time for the Royals to win their first division title since 1985 and their first AL Central title ever. Our preview here tries to predict how it will unfold and concludes with game one betting picks.
Detroit Tigers Lose Miguel Cabrera, then Yoenis Cespedes; Who Steps up Next?
A large part of Detroit’s past success is tied to Miguel Cabrera, widely considered the best pure-hitter in all of baseball. In his now eight seasons with Detroit, Cabrera has topped the .300 batting average mark all but once, his first year with the team. Since that time, Cabrera has led the AL with marks of .344 in 2011, which was the beginning of the turnaround, .330 in 2012, the year the Tigers reached the World Series, and .348 in 2013, which was a career best and it was also the year Cabrera won baseball’s Triple Crown.
This year, as if that stratospheric .348 wasn’t good enough, Cabrera was actually hitting at a clip that could have surpassed it. In 77 games, the 32-year-old veteran was hitting an MLB-best .350 with an OPS over one (1.034) and an on base percentage of .456. He had 54 RBI, one less than his strikeout total, as well as 15 home runs, 43 runs and 53 walks, which was just seven off his total from the previous year, in less than half the games played.
Cabrera went on the shelf on July 3rd and at the time, the Tigers were a game over .500. In the 26 games since then, Detroit is 11-15. That’s about a five-game swing toward the loss column with Cabrera on the DL. Simply put, it’s not terrible but his absence has been evident.
The team as a whole acknowledged the need to step up including Yoenis Cespedes, who hit as many home runs in July (8) as he had in the season’s other three months combined. Cespedes also added a season best for an individual month with 19 RBI and 19 runs.
But Cespedes, like Cabrera is no longer an option, as he was traded to the New York Mets before the July 31st trade deadline.
Entering the series against the Royals, Detroit’s offense is in a little bit of flux. Cabrera’s absence already notable, Detroit now had to navigate without Cespedes as well. It seems, at least initially, that this burden will fall on JD Martinez, who leads the team with 71 RBI and 29 HR (just three behind Mike Trout for AL-lead) and Jose Iglesias, who’s .318 BA and .360 OBP are above the league average.
Head-to-Head: Offense vs Pitching
While the loss of Cabrera and Cespedes stings, the rest of the Tigers lineup has shown themselves to be capable of average to above average, as well as consistent, production. Overall, the team leads baseball in batting average (.276), is second in on base percentage (.332) and is fourth in marks including runs scored (470) and slugging (.431.) Conversely, their pitching, which is part of the reason for the sub-.500 record, is 25th or worse in stats such as ERA (4.45), WHIP (1.36) and BAA (.269).
The Royals offense has been slightly better than average, rounding up as the 10th-11th best team in marks such as runs (449), on base percentage (.319) and slugging percentage (10th). Leading the way is Eric Hosmer with his .315 average and impressive .372 OBP and Kendrys Morales, who as DH has driven in 73 runs (3rd in AL) to go with his own .284 average.
Pitching-wise, the Royals are only top 10 in ERA with a 3.58 but unlike the Tigers, they are around the middle of the pack with just about everything else. In fact, part of why the Royals have been one of the best teams in baseball this year is because while they might not do everything as good as the rest of the league, there is really nothing they do poorly. The Royals are probably the most balanced team in baseball and it certainly has shown.
The Tigers have won just four of their last 10 and the games they have lost, haven’t been particularly close either. Detroit has given up at least six runs in four of those six losses.
Kansas City meanwhile, is only slightly better with a 5-5 record in their last 10. It should be noted though, that in one-run games in this span, the Royals are a perfect 3-0.
Royals vs Tigers Preview’s Betting Picks
While new Tiger, Daniel Norris won’t be starting in this series, a guy who once was an ace in his own right will. Justin Verlander (pictured) (1-3, 4.86 ERA) takes the mound for the Tigers, not so far-removed from his MVP 24-win season back in 2011.
Verlander has struggled the past two seasons, however, he is coming off his best performance of the year, an eight-inning, four hit, one run performance. He looked crisp and could carry that momentum into his start against the Royals.
Taking the mound for Kansas City is Danny Duffy, who has had his own issues this year. His last start, he lasted just six innings and gave up five earned as well as walked four. The walks have been a big part of the problem for Duffy this year, who has 33 of them in just 82 innings pitched.
Here are our preview’s game one betting picks: