(AP) — The Detroit Tigers are on the verge of clinching back-to-back postseason berths for the first time in 77 years and could use a better performance from Rick Porcello if they want to pull off that feat Monday night.
While Porcello will try to earn his first win in nine starts, Miguel Cabrera will continue his pursuit of history when the Tigers open a three-game road series against the Kansas City Royals.
Detroit (86-73) moved three games ahead of Chicago in the AL Central on Sunday with a 2-1 win in Minnesota and the White Sox’s 6-2 home loss to Tampa Bay.
“We’re not all the way happy yet,” said first baseman Prince Fielder, who hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning. “We have what, three games left? Try to win those and after that, we’ll see what happens.”
While Fielder played the hero, Cabrera went 0 for 3 with an intentional walk. The Tigers’ third baseman is seeking to become the first hitter to win the triple crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Cabrera has a significant lead in the AL in RBIs with 136, but his .325 batting average is only two points ahead of Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and his 43 homers are tied with Texas’ Josh Hamilton.
“This is his team,” Fielder said of Cabrera. “I’m here to help him. This is his team, I just want to come and help and be a part of it. Be a part of being able to watch somebody that great. I just love being a fan, just watching him.”
Porcello (9-12, 4.68 ERA) is hoping to benefit from Cabrera’s chase while ending a string of six consecutive losing decisions. The right-hander was hurt by a lack of run support for most of that stretch, getting one run over five starts, but he hasn’t helped himself lately by allowing four runs in each of his last three outings.
He’s failed to pitch past the fifth inning in his past two and was pulled after the fourth Wednesday against Kansas City when manager Jim Leyland noticed a decrease in the speed of his pitches.
“I just didn’t like the velocity drop. That’s usually a red flag,” Leyland told the team’s website. “There’s nothing wrong. He told (pitching coach Jeff Jones) that during the third inning. He just had no feel for it.”
If Porcello can bounce back with a better showing against the Royals, it might help the Tigers secure consecutive postseason berths for the first time since 1934-35 and their first set of back-to-back division titles. Detroit can accomplish that with a win or a White Sox loss in Cleveland.
Porcello gave up two runs over five innings during his most recent visit to Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 30 but was a tough-luck 2-1 loser.
In this matchup, Porcello will pitch opposite Bruce Chen (11-13, 5.13), who has performed well in each of his past two outings against the Tigers. The left-hander tossed eight innings in a 1-0 victory at Kauffman on Aug. 29 and gave up two runs over 6 2-3 innings at Comerica Park on Tuesday.
Chen, though, took the loss in a 2-0 defeat and the Tigers eventually swept the four-game series.
Detroit has won six of seven, while Kansas City (71-88) has dropped seven of eight, including a 15-3 drubbing in Cleveland on Sunday.
“The intensity stunk,” outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “Today was brutal.”
The Royals, though, swept Detroit at home from Aug. 28-30 but the Tigers have won 11 of 15 in the season series.