Let’s correct one flawed narrative before it starts: The American League Central race is not a test of mettle between the young Royals and aging Tigers.
Quite the opposite: The Royals have the third oldest 25-man roster in the majors, at 30 years and 209 days, according to STATS LLC. The Yankees (31 years, 235 days) and Giants (30 years, 274 days) are the only teams that surpass the Royals’ collective senescence.
The Tigers rank 10th, with an average age just shy of 30 years old.
Make no mistake: Wear-and-tear is a valid concern for the 2014 Tigers, who trail Kansas City by 1-1/2 games. Longtime ace Justin Verlander is showing the effects of throwing more pitches than anyone else in baseball over the past several years. Miguel Cabrera is suffering from an injury (this time, to his right ankle) that’s sapping some of his power for the second consecutive stretch run.
But the Tigers’ roster skews young in other areas — particularly the left side of the infield, with rookies Eugenio Suarez and Nick Castellanos starting on most days.
Meanwhile, the Royals’ active roster has five players born in the 1970s: starter Jeremy Guthrie, long reliever/spot starter Bruce Chen, veteran setup man Jason Frasor, and outfielders Josh Willingham and Raul Ibañez. Frasor, Willingham and Ibañez arrived in trades during the season, as general manager Dayton Moore wisely added experience to the Alex Gordon/Billy Butler/Eric Hosmer/Salvador Perez core.
“How long do you say ‘The Young Royals’ when it’s still pretty much the same team I’ve seen come up when I was with the Twins?” Tigers closer Joe Nathan asked Tuesday. “They’ve got a few other guys they’ve pieced in, like an unbelievable catcher in Perez. Their pitching staff has changed for the better, obviously. Their bullpen’s always been good. They’re pitching lights out. There’s only so many times you can say ‘The Young Royals.’ Now they’re veterans.
“The only thing they aren’t veterans in is playing meaningful games in September. Only time will tell how they perform.” Then Nathan added with a laugh: “We hope it’s for the worse.”
The Tigers will have some say in that. The teams play twice in the final month, Sept. 8-10 in Detroit and Sept. 19-21 in Kansas City.