7:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Detroit -113
Power is shifting before our very eyes in the American League Central as the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers conclude their three-game set, with the hosts looking for clean sweep of their division rivals. Kansas City (79-64) entered the series holding a slim two-game lead over Detroit, but managed to drop each of their first two meetings at Comerica Park. In both cases, Ned Yost’s small ball approach has failed to produce, as the high-powered Tigers’ offense had their way with the typically solid Royals’ pitching staff. In Monday’s 9-5 defeat, the visitors were thumped in the 3rd Inning, allowing six runs as they fell into a gaping 8-2 hole. After giving up the brunt of the damage, starting pitcher Jay Guthrie (10-11, 4.54 ERA) lasted just 2.2 innings, yielding eight runs (six earned) on ten hits, and was succeeded by a host of relievers that did their best to stop the proverbial bleeding. Offensively, Yost’s club scored three runs late, including a Lorenzo Cain’s home run in the 7th Inning, but it simply a case of far too little too late.
Tuesday’s contest was a far more competitive affair, yet the outcome remained the same as the Royals came up short yet again, this time in a 4-2 defeat. Kansas City was able to scatter ten hits over nine innings, but only managed to score a pair of runs as they watched their division lead crumble before them. The Royals left a disappointing eleven runners on base, with Omar Infante and the aforementioned Cain being the only players in Yost’s lineup to drive someone in. The offensive anemia spoiled what was largely a solid performance from starter Jason Vargas (11-8, 3.25 ERA), who allowed four runs on six hits over 5.1 innings, with six strikeouts and three walks. However, as has been a glaring weakness for the left-hander, he was taken yard twice on the night, which further fueled a raucous crowd at Comerica Park. Tonight, Yost will be sending James “Big Game” Shields (13-7, 3.23 ERA) to the mound to retake the division lead, giving the right-hander yet another opportunity to validate his moniker. The veteran has been nothing short of stellar of late, allowing just one run over his last 15.1 innings of work. I last Friday’s 1-0 shutout at New York, Shields nearly went the distance, departing with just two outs remaining in the contest after racking up six strikeouts and permitting a mere three hits. Fortunately for the Royals, this guy shines against the Tigers; in seven career starts at Detroit, Shields is 4-0 with a healthy 2.64 ERA.
Meanwhile, The Tigers (80-65) are riding a wave of momentum heading into tonight’s contest as they have finally erased the sizable deficit in the American League Central. Granted, said deficit came courtesy of their own efforts, but it’s undeniable that Brad Ausmus’ s club is peaking at the right time. Winners of twelve of their last seventeen outings, the Tigers have looked every bit the three-time reigning Division Champion is the oh-so-important series. Case in point; in their 9-5 victory Monday Night, starting pitcher Justin Verlander (13-12, 4.82 ERA), who has struggled mightily this season, rediscovered his magic in what was arguably his best performance in months. the former Cy Young-winner allowed four runs on six hits over seven innings, in which he struck out four and walked one. Imagine how formidable their rotation will be in the postseason if this is the guy they can count on. An embarrassment of riches indeed.
Max Sherzer (16-5, 3.19 ERA) followed that performance with a gem of his own in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory. Sherzer allowed seven hits, but yielded just one run over 6.2 innings of labor. The veteran right-hander struck out six Royals and walked four more, and ended the visitors’ mini-rally in the 5th Inning, retiring Salvador Perez and Eric Hosmer after loading the bases. Offensively, Detroit jumped out to an early lead once again, with J.D. Martinez driving Torii Hunter home via a sacrifice fly in the 1st Inning, followed by home runs from Rajai Davis (8) and and Martinez (20) in the 2nd and 5th Innings respectively. Heading to the hill tonight in an attempt to take the division lead is Rick Porcello (15-10, 3.30 ERA), whom will need to rebound from back-to-back lousy performances. Earning lost in each of last two starts, the big right-hander has been tagged for a dozen runs on 21 hits over the course of 9.2 innings of work. In his most recent appearance, Porcello allowed six runs on ten hits in a mere three innings during Detroit’s 8-2 loss at San Francisco last Friday. With that said, he’s been particularly stout against Kansas City, owning a 3-0 record with a 1.89 ERA in his previous three starts against them.