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Tigers, Royals clash in KC
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Detroit Tigers (50-37) at Kansas City Royals (47-43)

First pitch: Thursday, 8:10 p.m. ET Line and Total: Kansas City -105, Detroit -105, Total: 8.5

The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals start an AL Central battle on Thursday as they compete for the division lead.

The Tigers come into this four-game series with a 4.5-game lead over the Royals in their division and they have gone 7-4 in their past 11 games. They are coming off of an impressive two-game sweep against the NL West-leading Dodgers where they outscored L.A. 18-6. Max Scherzer was huge in Wednesday’s victory, going seven innings while giving up just four hits and a run with seven strikeouts (2 walks) as the team came away with a 4-1 victory. OF J.D. Martinez (.329) has been a godsend for Detroit this season and is 15-for-38 (.395) with two doubles, a triple, three homers, 6 RBI and seven runs over his past 10 games.

Kansas City has stayed within striking distance of the Tigers all season and has come away with a win in six of its past 10 games; including a two-games-to-one series win over the Rays most recently. A ninth-inning, three-run homer off the bat of AL All-Star C Salvador Perez (.284) helped give the Royals a series-clinching 5-4 win on Wednesday night as the team went just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Eric Hosmer (.260) also added a solo homer in the game and has been coming around lately with a nine-game hitting streak where he is 14-for-35 (.400) with three doubles, a home run and eight walks.

The pitching matchup in this one will feature 25-year-old LHP Drew Smyly (4-8, 3.89 ERA) going up against 35-year-old RHP Jeremy Guthrie (5-7, 4.02 ERA) of the Royals.

Detroit has had absolutely no issues as a visiting team on the year with a record of 25-15 and will be facing a Kansas City club that is below .500 (21-22) at home. The Tigers are 28-18 in this inter-divisional matchup over the last three seasons, including going 6-3 this year, but are just 10-11 at Kauffman Stadium in that time (3-0 in 2014). Some trends to consider when betting include that Detroit is 17-8 (.680) on the road when the money line is +125 to -125 this year while the Royals are 24-12 (.667) against divisional opponents when Guthrie is pitching over the past three seasons.

As far as injuries are concerned, DH Victor Martinez (Back) is day-to-day and has not played since exiting a game early on July 4 for the Tigers, while OF Alex Gordon (wrist) of Kansas is out and will see a hand specialist Thursday. The Royals will also be without OF Norichika Aoki (groin) and possibly 3B Mike Moustakas (illness) who missed Wednesday’s contest with the flu.

Drew Smyly was extremely valuable for the Tigers last season out of the pen over 63 games (2.37 ERA), but was placed back in the rotation this season and has pitched pretty well. He has put up a strikeout rate of 7.6 K/9 while walking 3.0 batters per nine innings and giving up too many home runs (1.22 HR/9). His past two starts have not gone well as he earned losses in each outing while allowing a total of 15 hits and nine runs with only six strikeouts (3 walks) over 7.2 innings on the mound. Smyly has been great against the Royals as both a reliever and starter, going 3-1 over 12 games (4 starts) with a 2.16 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, while going 2-1 (3-1 team record) with a 1.38 ERA (0.96 WHIP) in the games he has started.

DH Billy Butler has done well in the matchup against the lefty, going 6-for-11 with a double. On the other hand, SS Alcides Escobar and 1B Eric Hosmer have combined to go just 6-for-29 (.207) with eight strikeouts against the youngster. The Tigers’ bullpen has been their weakness over the past few years and is 11-10 with a 4.36 ERA while going 23-for-31 (74%) in save chances. Joe Nathan (5.79 ERA, 18 saves) has blown five saves this season while giving up five home runs (1.38 HR/9) and walking 13 batters (3.6 BB/9) in 32.2 innings.

Jeremy Guthrie has put together quite a successful career (234 starts) despite having an ERA under 4.00 in just three of his eight full seasons and compiling a career strikeout-rate of 5.4 K/9. He benefits from great control (2.2 BB/9 in 2014), but still allows quite a few home runs (1.32 HR/9) to his opponents. Just like Smyly, Guthrie has been poor over his past two starts, going a combined 10.2 innings while allowing 19 hits (3 HR) and 10 runs (8 ER) with nine strikeouts (4 walks). He’s had plenty of experience against the Tigers in his career, going 8-5 (9-7 team record) with a 3.92 ERA (1.43 WHIP) and earned a win in his outing against them this year when he went 6.2 frames while giving up just four hits and a run with an uncharacteristically high total of strikeouts (nine).

Miguel Cabrera (14-for-43, 3 HR, 9 RBI), 2B Ian Kinsler (12-for-34, 3 extra-base hits) and OF Torii Hunter (12-for-40, 3 doubles, 5 RBI) have all done very well against Guthrie in their careers, while OF Austin Jackson has gone just 5-for-27 (.185) with eight strikeouts against the veteran. The relievers for Kansas City have been solid this year, combining to go 14-11 with a 3.46 ERA and are a strong 25-for-31 (81%) in save opportunities. Greg Holland (1.87 ERA, 24 saves) has become one of the top closers in the game and has blown just one save this year while striking out 52 batters in his 33.2 innings of work (13.9 K/9).

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