Can the Royals’ offense rebound against the Tigers’ top of the rotation?

It was not a great road trip for the Royals offense, as they only scored 19 runs over a seven-game span that included stops in Anaheim and Oakland. While the Royals pitching staff and defense allowed 44 runs, the fact that the Royals were outscored by 25 runs on the West Coast trip also reflects poorly on the Royals offense. There are going to be times when the pitching staff doesn’t have their best stuff (which was the case for the Royals on this trip with the exception of Mike Minor’s win in the first game in Oakland). And yet, the Royals scored only more than three runs four times during the road trip, and they only scored more than three runs once, which was their 6-1 win on June 10th against the Athletics (their lone win of the road trip). To make matters worse, the Royals also missed the Angels and Athletics’ aces on the trip, as they did not face Shohei Ohtani of the Angels or Sean Manaea of the Athletics. That fact should only put more salt into the wounds of the Royals’ recent offensive woes.

Thankfully, the Royals come back to Kauffman Stadium, where they have been 16-15 this year, in comparison to 14-19 on the road, according to Baseball-Reference. To start the week, the Royals will face division foe Detroit, whom they are 6-4 this season against, and that includes a three-game sweep in Detroit back in May. After facing one of the hottest teams in baseball (Angels) and best overall teams in the American League (A’s) last week, the Royals hope that going against the Tigers, who are 26-39 and currently tied for last with the Twins in the Central, can be a confidence booster of a series that can get the Boys in Blue back on the winning track.

That being said, it will not be an easy series for the Royals, as they will face the Tigers’ top three pitchers in Matt Boyd, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal. Boyd and Mize are both posting sub-four ERAs for the Tigers, and though Skubal got off to a slow start, he’s picked it up lately, as he leads Tigers starters in strikeouts with 74. Therefore, what should the Royals hitters (and fans) expect from this trio in this important home series?

The Tigers have not been a good team overall, but their starting pitching staff has actually been okay, all things considered. According to Fangraphs, the Tigers rank 13th in the league in starting staff ERA and 14th in WHIP. What has helped the starting rotation be successful is their ability to limit the long ball, as they are tied for 8th when it comes to HR/9 rate in the league.

Boyd has seen the biggest improvement in this category this season. He lost some luster as a top of the rotation guy in Detroit after his HR/9 rose from 1.89 in 2019 to 2.24 in 2020, which boosted his ERA numbers to 4.56 and 6.71 respectively. This season though, his HR/9 has fallen to 0.79, a career low, and consequently, his ERA currently sits at 3.56, which is also a career best.

Mize and Skubal have struggled a little bit more than Boyd when it comes to limiting home runs, as their HR/9 rates currently sit at 1.40 and 2.10, respectively. However, both Tigers pitchers are only in their second season, and have seen their HR/9 rates at least drop from their rookie campaigns in 2020. Mize has seen his HR/9 rate drop 0.82 points, while Skubal has seen his rate drop 0.43. So, while they aren’t as impressive drops as Boyd’s, the two young Tigers pitchers’ regression in this category is an encouraging sign for Tigers fans, especially since Mize and Skubal are expected to be the future of the Tigers rotation for a long time.

When it comes to how each pitcher has fared in the past against the Royals, it’s been a different story for each of them, with Boyd having a more checkered history against Kansas City in comparison to Mize and Skubal. Of course, Boyd has a much larger sample size, as Boyd has made 25 starts and pitched 127.2 innings against the Royals over his career. That being said, Boyd has a career 5.57 ERA against the Royals, which is his highest mark against any AL Central opponent over his career. Furthermore, his K/9 rate of 7.1 is his lowest rate against any AL Central opponent as well, and the 154 hits he’s allowed to the Royals is the most he’s given up to a single team over his career as well (the White Sox are second and they are 50 hits behind).

Hence, while Boyd has been a dependable arm for the Tigers this season during a rebuilding campaign, Royals fans can hope that the “old” Boyd shows up against the Royals on Monday night, which in turn could be what the Royals offense needs after such inconsistency at the plate last week.

As for Mize and Skubal, they have better career numbers against the Royals, though like I said earlier, it is a much smaller sample. Mize has a 4.76 ERA and 5.8 K/9 in three starts and 17.0 IP against the Royals, while Skubal has a 3.95 ERA and 11.2 K/9 in three starts and 13.2 IP against Kansas City. While Mize has whiffed fewer Royals batters, he has at least limited the long ball better than his lefty sophomore counterpart. Mize has only allowed two home runs to Royals hitters over the past two years while Skubal has allowed four. This is despite Skubal pitching 3.1 innings less than Mize. Therefore, if the Royals are going to get to Skubal, they will need to do so through the long ball, while with Mize, they will need to be more patient and try to work counts to get guys on base. Mize’s six walks against the Royals are the second-most he’s thrown against a single team over the past two years, with only the White Sox generating more walks (eight) against Mize.

The Royals ability to barrel balls will be a key development in this Tigers series, especially against Mize and Skubal, who have given up high barrel rates this year of 10.3 and 14.4 percent, respectively. While Boyd’s barrel rate is down to 7.7 percent this year, he has seen his HR/9 rate jump to 2.53 in the month of June, which is much higher than the 0.25 and 0.82 HR/9 rates he posted in April and May, respectively. Therefore, considering Boyd’s recent struggles and history against the Royals, Monday night may be a prime opportunity for the Royals to recharge their bats.

The overall season series this year against the Tigers has been a tremendous up and down affair for the Royals and Royals fans alike. Back in late April, the Royals swept the Tigers at Comerica Park in a four-game series. Then, in a return to Comerica in Mid-May, the Royals were swept by the Tigers, which extended the Royals’ losing streak at the time to 11 games. In late May, the Royals dropped the first game of a three-game series to the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium, but bounced back to win the next two games over the weekend slate. So, if history repeats itself, the Tigers should be slated to take two of three from the Royals, which wouldn’t be surprising, unfortunately, considering the Royals’ momentum at this moment.

That being said, the Royals certainly will benefit from being back home in Kansas City and in front of the Kauffman faithful. While the Tigers are more competitive than they were at any point over the past couple of seasons, the Royals have a prime opportunity, especially in the lineup, to bounce back. Boyd and Skubal are susceptible to the long ball, and Mize has struggled at times with control, which puts him in spots where the Royals can take advantage. This could be a prime time for Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier to breakout, who both can barrel the ball and hit the long ball when things are clicking. The Royals will not have the services of Andrew Benintendi, who hit the IL with a right rib fracture, though the move did bring up Edward Olivares, who is in the starting lineup on Monday.

The news of Benintendi hitting the IL is a major blow to the Royals lineup not just for this series, but beyond as well, since it’s hard to tell how long it takes for a player to recover from such an injury. Thus, the pressure will be on Soler, Dozier, and other bats in the lineup like Olivares, Kelvin Gutierrez and Michael Taylor to produce in Benintendi’s absence.

The top of the Tigers rotation has helped keep the Tigers competitive on occasion, and the staff will be even better once Spencer Turnbull returns to the rotation. Turnbull was posting a 2.88 ERA in nine starts and actually threw a no hitter this year before he was shelved on the IL in June due to a strained forearm.

However, the Tigers rotation has been susceptible to the Royals’ lineup in the past, and the Tigers are also coming off a rough three-game sweep at the hands of the division leading White Sox at Comerica Park. So, one team will be able to stop the bleeding this week, and one will only see their playoff hopes grow dimmer by Thursday.

Let’s hope, as Royals fans, Detroit continues their own woes, only this time, at Kauffman Stadium this week.

Photo Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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