DETROIT — The best teams in the American League Central Division in recent years wallowed in mediocrity prior to the All-Star break. Both will be seeking to jump start their seasons when they face each other for a three-game weekend series.
Injuries and spotty starting pitching left Kansas City and Detroit hovering around the .500 mark for a good portion of the season. The Tigers trail pitching-rich Cleveland by 6 1/2 games, with the Royals a half-game behind them and tied with the Chicago White Sox in third place.
Kansas City's lineup has been in a state of flux since collision between third baseman Mike Moustakas and left fielder Alex Gordon on May 22. Moustakas suffered a season-ending knee injury and Gordon fractured his wrist.
Gordon has returned to the lineup but the Royals entered the break with dynamic center fielder Lorenzo Cain (hamstring) and top closer Wade Davis (forearm strain) on the 15-day disabled list. Both are expected to return shortly, perhaps as early as this weekend.
The Royals are hopeful their run of bad luck is behind them.
“If there's a team that can put together a run, it's us,” first baseman Eric Hosmer told MLB.com. “We've had a weird first half. It's definitely been inconsistent. It seems like anytime we get someone back then someone else goes down. It's just been kind of tough.”
Hosmer comes into the second half on an emotional high after winning the All-Star Game MVP award. Hosmer and catcher Salvador Perez put the AL in front with second-inning homers.
“I felt like a proud papa there in the second inning after those two guys gave us the lead,” Royals and All-Star manager Ned Yost said during the postgame press conference. “It's been a long time since I've been that proud of two players in a moment like that.”
Ian Kennedy will start the series opener on Friday at Comerica Park. Kennedy (6-7, 3.97 ERA) has pitched well recently, averaging six innings and two earned runs in his last three starts while striking out 29 batters. He's winless in four career starts against Detroit, posting a 0-3 record and 4.94 ERA.
Detroit has been streaky throughout the season. It finished its pre-All-Star break campaign on a down note, losing five of its last seven after winning the first four games of an 11-game road swing. The Tigers are also 2-5 against the Royals this season, though all of those games were played in Kansas City.
“Any time you have a winning trip you're happy about it,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said to the Detroit Free Press. “But when you win the first four and then end up losing five of the next seven, you're not real excited.”
The Tigers come out of the break still missing right fielder J.D. Martinez and two-fifths of their rotation. Martinez fractured his right elbow when he ran into a wall chasing a foul ball in Kansas City on June 16th. Starters Jordan Zimmermann (neck strain) and Daniel Norris (oblique strain) also begin the second half on the disabled list.
Without that duo, Ausmus was forced to put struggling Anibal Sanchez back in the rotation. Sanchez was the losing pitcher at Toronto on Sunday.
“Starting pitching needs to be better overall,” Ausmus told MLB.com. “If we can get some of these guys back, like Zimmermann and Norris, get some health in the starting rotation; that obviously would be a big boost. We don't expect them to miss much time going into the second half, but we still have to get them back on the mound before we know exactly who we have in the rotation.”
Ausmus will go with Justin Verlander, who has won six of his last eight decisions, on Friday. Verlander has 21 career wins against Kansas City, his most against any opponent. He's 21-8 with a 3.26 ERA overall against the Royals.