By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – In mid-May, the Detroit Tigers enjoyed a seven-game lead in the American League Central. Almost exactly a month later, the Tigers have teams nipping at their heels, and the second-place Kansas City Royals trail by just a game and a half. With a four-game series between Detroit and Kansas City beginning Monday, the Tigers have an opportunity to once again create some space.
Detroit has a record of 5-0 against the Royals this season. The Tigers prevailed over Kansas City, 4-3, on Opening Day, and they won the second game of that series, 2-1, in extra innings. In the beginning of May the teams met again, this time at Kauffman Stadium, and Tigers promptly dismantled the Royals by a combined score of 26-8 over that three-game series.
Since then, the Royals have morphed into one of the hottest teams in baseball, winners of seven straight games and 12 of their last 16. Kansas City’s hitting has been the bane of its existence – the team reassigned its hitting coach May 29 – but the bats have heated up recently, and Kansas City is averaging 6.43 runs over its last seven games.
The Royals enjoy the services of one of the game’s best closers in Greg Holland, who has 20 saves in 21 chances this season. Holland caps off a bullpen that boasts a collective ERA of 3.44, a mark that ranks 11th in the majors.
While Kansas City has been clicking on all cylinders, Detroit has been recovering from a worrisome skid in which the team won just six of 22 games after starting the season with a sizzling 27-12 record. The Tigers have now won three of their last four.
Veteran outfielder Torii Hunter dismissed Sunday a reporter’s half-joking assertion that the upcoming series is one of the most important of the season, maintaining that in June every series is important but none more important than another.
Discussions on the quality of the AL Central will undoubtedly continue, but what cannot be disputed is that the division is currently one of the most competitive in the majors, with the last-place Chicago White Sox just 5 1/2 games out of first place. Only the National League East is more tightly packed, with Atlanta clinging to a one-game lead over Washington and Miami and last-place Philadelphia trailing by 6 1/2 games.
In the other four divisions, first-place teams have at least an 11-game lead over their last-place counterparts. Given the recent slide, the Tigers will need more time to create that kind of distance, but Detroit can get a good start on the process this week.