The final series of the year beckons for all thirty MLB clubs this week and with tonight’s game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals the former have a chance to book their place in the ALDS. The Tigers lead by three games, so any win in this series for the Tigers or any loss by the Chicago White Sox will see the Tigers clinch the division. Of course, they’ve been in a similar spot once before: in 2006 they held a three game lead over the Minnesota Twins as they started the last three of the year against the Royals. But the Twins won all three of their remaining games and the Royals swept the Tigers into the Wild Card spot. This year, however, there will be no wild card and if a worst case scenario eventuates for the Tigers it will end with a 163rd regular season game.
The man to whom the Tigers gave the task of finishing the AL Central race is right handed pitcher Rick Porcello. Porcello has not had a great year and in addition to trying to formally cement the Tigers place in the ALDS he will trying to secure his place in the rotation for that series. Right now he looks like the odd man out with an ERA of 4.68 for the season and coming off a very poor September. He won’t find the Royals easy opponents either. In his three starts against them this year he is 1-1, but has only had one particularly good outing and that was way back in May. Last week he gave up four runs in four innings and was on the hook for the loss until the offence came back to save him.
He will face a Royals lineup that sees Alcides Escobar make a return after missing all three games against the Cleveland Indians with a shoulder injury he picked up in the finale in Detroit last Thursday. Mike Moustakas also starts for the Royals. He was a minor doubt after coming out of Sunday’s game with a niggle in his left groin, but he has pulled up fine for this final series. Eric Hosmer still misses out, however, with the minor rotator cuff tear he picked up in Detroit. As in the Cleveland series, Billy Butler will replace him at first base and for today’s game Jarrod Dyson will be the DH with David Lough in centre field.
That lineup will be in support of Bruce Chen who is looking for his second win of the year against the Tigers. He has actually pitched very well against them, however, despite his 1-3 record. Last week he pitched a gem, but was out-duelled by Anibal Sanchez. He’s had quality starts in three of his four outings against Detroit this year and he will be looking to finish the season in some style tonight.
There are other issues beside the pennant chase to be decided over the next three nights as well. The big one is obviously Miguel Cabrera‘s attempt to win the American League Triple Crown. He had a poor season against Kansas City in Detroit last week and although his is tied for the AL lead in home runs his batting average has now slipped dangerously close to that of Joe Mauer. On a chilly October night in the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium he may find it hard to get the home runs he will likely need (and even then Alex Gordon may rob him of one like he did in Detroit), though the hits may come a bit easier. There is also a smaller mark at stake for Butler of the Royals. He needs one more home run to have his first thirty home run season. It’s a long way off triple crown numbers, but Butler already has over one hundred RBIs and is hitting .312 so he has a chance at a 30-100-.300 season which is no mean feat.