What to watch in Tigers-Royals series
Justin Verlander vs. middle of Royals order
Verlander arguably pitched better than his numbers when he beat the Royals at Comerica Park on Sept. 8, missing out on a quality start thanks to Lorenzo Cain’s inside-the-park home run off the Don Kelly-Torii Hunter collision. He held Salvador Perez and Billy Butler hitless in the same game. He hadn’t kept Butler off base in a game since Aug. 6, 2011.
That said, Verlander also had 15 fly balls, compared with seven balls in play on the ground. He has had a handful of games like that this year, and either been really good or really bad in the end. If he can contain Perez and Butler, he can live with three hits from Eric Hosmer, or a lucky home run for Cain.
Miguel Cabrera vs. Kauffman Stadium
Normally, Cabrera owns this place, despite a low slugging percentage. Five of his six hits in Kansas City this season are doubles, resulting in nine RBIs in seven games. That said, the Royals held him 0-for-10 over the final three games of the Tigers’ last visit here in July, then kept him relatively contained (3-for-10, double, RBI) in Detroit earlier this month. The Tigers were able to overcome it with stingy pitching and clutch hitting around Cabrera. That’s not a safe assurance this weekend, neither the low-scoring games nor offense around him.
Royals basestealers vs. Tigers pitchers/catchers
Alex Avila rode an exercise bike without any concussion symptoms Wednesday, and he was scheduled to catch Anibal Sanchez’s bullpen session at Kauffman Stadium Thursday. If he returns, it’s a major boost to defend against the Royals’ aggressive baserunning. He started all three games between the two clubs at Comerica Park a week and a half ago and threw out a would-be basestealer in the middle-game 4-2 win, the same game in which Joe Nathan and the Tigers middle infielders caught Jarrod Dyson off second base with the tying run on first in the ninth inning. A day later, the Royals stole two bases off Porcello, who has seen opponents go 4-for-5 in attempts against him over his last four starts. By contrast, opponents are 2-for-5 stealing on Scherzer since the beginning of July.
Then again, considering the situation, the bigger test is likely to come in the late innings against a Tigers bullpen that relies more on its catchers and infielders to hold baserunners. As Joe Nathan admitted, they don’t do a whole lot of work on pickoff moves, though they’ve set aside time for early work a couple different times this season before batting practice.
Joakim Soria vs. his old team
Between three starters who normally go deep into games, and a bullpen that just had an off-day to recharge, opportunities could be few for Soria against the team for which he once closed. On the other hand, the lack of a set role gives Brad Ausmus an opportunity to throw him into a lot of different situations if a Royals rally arises.
“I’m not going to put an inning on it, because I don’t know,” Ausmus said. “Really, one of the biggest strengths of our team is our starting rotation, so in theory you hope that you don’t have to go to the bullpen early.”
He didn’t rule out bringing in Soria as early as the sixth inning, but he also didn’t sound interested in doing so unless it’s an emergency.
“I’ll stick to my guns when I say that getting the 27th out is much more difficult than getting the 18th out or the 21st out,” Ausmus said. “Does that mean that I wouldn’t bring somebody like Soria in the sixth inning? No, it doesn’t mean that.”