It’s not really fair to call a road series with the Detroit Tigers, the heavy favorite to win the American League Central Division this year, an important test for the Kansas City Royals. But when you start 6-15, like the Royals have, the price you pay for that sluggish showing is getting stuck in must-win spots that are less than ideal. But there’s also some positive reasons for feeling like the Royals are going to play a threshold series the next three days in the Motor City.
Detroit is reeling right now. Since leaving Kansas City almost two weeks ago, the Tigers have lost eight of ten. You can attribute to that to playing the Rangers and Yankees on the road in that timeframe and with a 2-5 showing for Detroit in those seven games, you’d be mostly right. Mostly—because it ignores that Detroit lost three straight to Seattle at home, and gave up 19 runs to a lousy offensive team in the process. The Tigers have some significant pitching problems right now whenever Justin Verlander is not on the mound. Over the past eight games, the team ERA is 5.28, one of the worst in the American League. Doug Fister, the team’s #2 starter is still on the disabled list and manager Jim Leyland is going to give reliever Duane Below his first chance at a start in tonight’s opener.
The Tiger’s pitching troubles come at a time when the Royals’ offense is starting to click. Billy Butler’s been hot out of the gate, while Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas have to officially be on the hot list right now. The KC bullpen has been effective, with Ned Yost making full use of all his arms. Finally, if you look at the pitching matchups, you see Luke Hochevar, fresh off a solid outing in Cleveland set to face Below tonight. Then its Jonathan Sanchez paired up against Detroit’s Rick Porcello. If the Royals are going to get the kind of hot streak they need to nudge closer back to .500, is it unreasonable to say they need to win games like tonight and Tuesday night if they’re going to do it?
Kansas City does need to come out strong these next two nights, because Wednesday’s matinee finale features Verlander on the mound, the surest cure to pitching ills there is. It would be nice for the Royals to be playing with house money in that game—at least far as this series goes—and it’s fair to think they can pull it off.