The Detroit Tigers seem to be cruising to an AL Central title, and Anibal Sanchez is on the cusp of the matching a career-best winning streak.
Sanchez goes for a sixth straight victory Friday night when the Tigers open this three-game road series against the Kansas City Royals, the most recent team to defeat him.
Detroit (81-59) leads the division by 6 1/2 games on second-place Cleveland with 22 to play.
“It’s all about winning games,” third baseman Miguel Cabrera told the team’s official website.
Sanchez (12-7, 2.68 ERA), the AL ERA leader, is doing his part to help the Tigers match a franchise record with a third straight trip to the postseason.
The right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA over eight starts since taking a 1-0 loss at Kansas City (73-67) on July 19. He allowed one run with a season-high five walks in six innings.
Sanchez lost his only other outing there by the same score Aug. 29, 2012, yielding one run in seven innings.
Some help from the offense could be just what he needs to match his career high of six straight wins with the Florida Marlins from April 22-June 10, 2011.
Sanchez got plenty of support Saturday, when he allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings of a 10-5 home win over the Indians.
That was the first of four games over a five-contest stretch without Cabrera, who has been hampered by an abdomen injury.
The Tigers could have used him in Wednesday’s 20-4 loss at Boston, their third in four games. Manager Jim Leyland would like to get the reigning AL MVP and Triple Crown winner back in the lineup.
“He knows he can still be a force playing handicapped,” Leyland told the team’s official website. “And we’ve been very fortunate to play as well as we have, but that luck will run out at some point if he’s not in there. We’ve been very fortunate, but I wouldn’t keep counting on that.
“It’s not to slight somebody else that’s in the lineup. I mean, you can miss a good player. But when you’re talking about the elite, they change the strategy.”
Don Kelly has started Detroit’s last two games without Cabrera, and he’s 4 for 23 over his last 11 contests.
Cabrera, though, is 4 for 20 (.200) with two homers and three RBIs in six games at Kansas City this year. He had a .366 average with 10 homers and 40 RBIs over his first 47 games there.
The eight-time All-Star owns a .421 average (16 for 38) with six doubles and two homers versus Royals starter James Shields (10-8, 3.03).
The Royals are trying to remain a factor in the AL wild-card race, and they’re looking to win for the 10th time in 13 tries. They may have gained an emotional lift Thursday, when they erased a five-run deficit before Mike Moustakas’ walkoff homer cinched a 7-6,13-inning win over Seattle.
“Every game is crucial and extremely important,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’ve seen our players do this the majority of the year. They don’t believe if we’re down by five we’re out of it or we’re going to lose the game.”
That’s also been the case with Shields on the mound. The right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA over his last five starts, and that includes seven innings of a 3-0 victory at Detroit on Aug. 16.
Shields was superb again Sunday, matching a season high with nine strikeouts in seven innings of a 5-0 victory at Toronto.