Thanks in large part to a stellar season from Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers own the best record in baseball. They’ll look to their young star to help them bounce back from a lopsided loss to the Kansas City Royals, one of Verlander’s favorite opponents, when the teams meet Saturday.
Detroit (57-37) dropped Friday’s series opener 10-2, snapping its four-game winning streak. The Tigers, though, have won 10 of their last 13 and hold a one-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central.
Verlander (11-3, 3.26 ERA) has been integral to that success, with the Tigers going 13-5 in his starts this season. The right-hander leads Detroit in victories and pitched in his first All-Star game July 10. He’s 6-1 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of June, holding opponents to a .194 batting average in those games.
“He’s nasty, and he’s got really good stuff,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Verlander gave up four runs and eight hits in seven innings of Sunday’s 11-7 victory over Seattle.
As well as Verlander has pitched this season, he’s been even more dominant against Kansas City (42-53).
He is 5-0 with a 1.58 ERA in six career starts against the Royals, his most wins against any opponent and his lowest ERA against any AL team. He’s won both of his career starts against the Royals at Comerica Park, posting a 2.08 ERA in those games.
In three starts against Kansas City this season, Verlander is 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA.
Detroit slugger Gary Sheffield hit his 23rd homer of the season Friday and is batting .412 (14-for-34) with five homers and nine RBIs in his last nine games at Comerica. Sheffield has three homers in nine games against the Royals this year, but is hitting just .176 (6-for-34) in those contests. He’s hitless in seven career at-bats against Jorge De La Rosa (7-10, 5.25), who makes the start for Kansas City on Saturday.
On Sunday, De La Rosa allowed three runs, two hits - both home runs - and six walks before leaving with a bruised left thumb after 83 pitches in 3 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss to Cleveland. The left-hander had won a career-high three straight starts with a 2.41 ERA in that span.
De La Rosa tries to get back on track on the road, where he has struggled this season, going 2-6 with a 4.75 ERA in 10 games. In two starts against the Tigers this year, De La Rosa is 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA.
The Royals have scored 25 runs in winning their last three games, and are 13-7 since June 24.
“I think we’re proving every day that we’re not nearly as bad as everyone thinks we are,” said rookie Billy Butler, who’s batting .333 in 32 games. “People made fun of the Royals, but now they see that this isn’t a bad team.”
Butler had a career-high four hits and four RBIs on Friday, and is batting .435 (20-for-46) with 19 RBIs in his last 12 contests.
Mark Grudzielanek also had four hits for the Royals and is hitting .415 (17-for-41) in 10 games since coming off the disabled list.
The Tigers have won seven of 10 meetings with the Royals in 2007.