Tigers confident heading into final set before All-Star break in Kansas City

Winners in 14 of 19, the Tigers (50-37) have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Royals (47-43).

Carlos Osorio

If the Kansas City Royals are to cut into Detroit’s lead in the AL Central, they must play better against the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.

Detroit looks to improve to 4-0 in Kansas City this season when the top teams in the division begin a four-game series there Thursday night.

Winners in 14 of 19, the Tigers (50-37) have a 4 1/2-game lead over the Royals (47-43). Though the teams have split six games played at Comerica Park, Detroit hit .356 with 14 doubles while outscoring the Royals 26-8 during a three-game road sweep May 2-4.

After concluding a 6-3 homestand by sweeping a pair from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tigers are confident heading into the final set before the All-Star break.

"It’s going to be a big series," scheduled starter Drew Smyly told MLB’s official website. "Hopefully we can end on a strong note as a team and go in there and take care of business."

Salvador Perez’s three-run homer in the ninth Wednesday gave Kansas City a 5-4 victory at Tampa Bay to conclude a 5-4 trip.

"That’s the difference between 4 1/2 games back compared to 5 1/2 games back," manager Ned Yost said. "Definitely nice to have a little momentum going home."

While Detroit star Miguel Cabrera is expected to play after being rested during Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Dodgers, it’s uncertain if Victor Martinez will miss a third straight contest with back problems. Martinez has hit .424 with six doubles in his last eight games at Kansas City.

The Royals turn to Jeremy Guthrie (5-7, 4.10 ERA), who is 4-0 with a 3.51 ERA versus Detroit at Kauffman Stadium. He won his only 2014 start against the Tigers, allowing J.D. Martinez’s homer and three other hits while striking out nine in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 road victory June 18.

That was part of a four-start stretch where the right-hander was 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA before he gave up six runs and a season-high 11 hits in a season-low four innings of a 7-3 defeat at Cleveland on Saturday.

Detroit’s Ian Kinsler is batting .353 (12 for 34) versus Guthrie and .367 during a 12-game hitting streak at Kansas City.

Cabrera went 0 for 13 in Detroit’s most recent road series at Houston, but he’s hit .326 with three homers against Guthrie.

Smyly (4-8, 3.89) has yielded nine runs and 15 hits in 7 2-3 innings to lose two straight outings following a four-start stretch in which he had a 1.44 ERA.

He’s allowed two runs in 14 innings while splitting two starts against the Royals this season. Both runs came over seven innings while matched up with Guthrie last month.

Perez’s only hit in four at-bats versus Smyly left the park, while teammate Billy Butler is 6 for 11 against him.

Butler is 7 for 16 in his last four games after a 1-for-22 slump.

While the Royals hope to have third baseman Mike Moustakas back after he sat Wednesday with the flu, it’s uncertain if All-Star Alex Gordon will be in the lineup at any point in this series due to a sprained wrist.

"We’ll get him back to Kansas City and have our hand specialist check him, and see where we’re at," Yost said.

Gordon is 2 for 17 with nine strikeouts against Smyly.