It’s put up or shut up time for the Kansas City Royals.
A 19-8 start to the second-half has the Royals in the mix for a playoff spot, but the club could use a statement series to show it really means business. Last night, Kansas City kicked off an unusual five-game series against the American League Central leading Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Tigers stood their ground, taking Game 1 of the series 4-1. The victory gave Detroit an 8.5 game lead over the Royals and a 6.5 game advantage over the Cleveland Indians.
Today, the series continues with a doubleheader that will see Danny Duffy make his 2013 debut against Justin Verlander, then James Shields faces Jose Alvarez in the nightcap. A poor showing by the Royals this weekend could dash their hopes for a playoff birth.
“These are huge games for us, we’re not going to sugar-coat it. We know they’re the head of the division right now, we know we have some ground to make up. That’s the good part about going into this series, we control that. We don’t have to worry about who they’re playing or what the score is in that game, we just have to go out and play our game. I think they know we’re playing good baseball and we’re going to be ready to play.”
Heading into this weekend’s action, Kansas City holds a 5-4 advantage in the season series. The last time the Royals won a season series against Detroit was 2008, and the Tigers have dominated Kansas City the past two seasons, going 24-12.
The Royals haven’t had a winning record since 2003 and haven’t been to the playoffs since winning the World Series back in 1985. That world championship capped a golden era in Kansas City in which the Royals made the postseason in seven of the 10 seasons from 1976-85.
As one of the longest-tenured Royals, Billy Butler knows all too well about the team’s struggles, but he has been particularly successful against the Tigers. Kansas City’s designated hitter has a .345/.382/.519 line in 52 games at Comerica Park heading into the series and is 25-29 (.424) against Verlander in his career.
While the Royals have been impressive of late, the Tigers have been on a hot streak of their own since the break, putting together a 12-game winning streak earlier this month. The biggest question mark for Detroit coming into the year was its bullpen, but things have worked themselves out quite nicely.
Joaquin Benoit has settled into the closer role, the newly-acquired Jose Veras is serving as his setup man and rocket-armed prospect Bruce Rondon is looking more comfortable now that he’s out from the microscope of having to work in late-inning, high-pressure situations.
The marquee pitching matchup will be Sunday, as the series finale that afternoon pits two of the hottest starting pitchers head-to-head as Bruce Chen faces Max Scherzer. Yes, Bruce Chen is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball.
Yes, that Bruce Chen. Seriously. Let that sink in.
After being one of the worst pitchers in baseball last season, the veteran lefty had to start the year in the bullpen. In six starts since rejoining the rotation, Chen has a 0.93 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. Altogether, the 36-year-old is 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA over 72 ⅓ innings pitched.
Scherzer has been a revelation for the Tigers, and is in the hunt for the pitching triple crown. He’s 17-1 with a 2.85 ERA and 181 strikeouts, becoming one of the must-see starters in the game.
- Royals at Tigers**
- Yankees at Red Sox
- Diamondbacks at Pirates
- Nationals at Braves
- Indians at Athletics
- Mariners at Rangers
- Blue Jays at Rays
- Dodgers at Phillies
- Rockies at Orioles
- Cardinals at Cubs
- Reds at Brewers*
- Mets at Padres*
- White Sox at Twins*
- Giants at Marlins
- Astros at Angels
*Four-game series that started Thursday
**Five-game series that started Thursday with a double-header today