The last time the Detroit Tigers were swept in Kansas City was during the 2005 season, when they finished 25 games back in the AL Central.
The Tigers’ position in the division isn’t nearly as bad now, but they are facing their largest deficit of the season as they try to salvage the finale of a three-game set with the Royals on Thursday.
Detroit (71-62) lost 5-0 to Kansas City (59-72) on Wednesday night, falling 4 1/2 games back of Central-leading Cleveland to match the furthest behind first place the Tigers have been all season.
The defending AL champions, who also were that far out of first after play on June 1, will now try to avoid being swept in Kansas City for the first time since a four-game series from Sept. 19-21, 2005. Detroit finished 69-86 that season.
Entering this series, the Tigers had won 14 of their previous 15 games at Kauffman Stadium. They also were coming off a 16-0 win over the New York Yankees on Monday night, but they left 13 men on base in a 6-3 loss to the Royals in Tuesday’s series opener before being shut out for just the second time all season on Wednesday.
“Now is not the time for a rah-rah speech,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
“This is a big man’s game. These guys know what they need to do. When nobody’s on, we get a hit. We get somebody on and we can’t get a hit. … It’s a tough game to explain.”
The Tigers’ starting pitching, meanwhile, hasn’t been any better, combining to allow 11 runs and last only five innings in this series’ first two games. Detroit now looks to Jeremy Bonderman (10-7, 4.87 ERA), who is 0-6 with an 8.78 ERA in his last seven starts.
The right-hander gave up seven runs and eight hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to the Yankees on Saturday night.
Bonderman has not received a decision in two starts against Kansas City this season, posting a 2.08 ERA. He is 8-5 with a 3.98 ERA in 16 starts and two relief appearances in his career against the Royals.
The right-hander did not surrender more than two runs in any of his previous four starts.
This will be Nunez’s first start against the Tigers, though he has a 4.91 ERA without a decision in four relief appearances against them.
Nunez will try to help Kansas City build on the momentum of its fifth shutout of the season. Royals pitchers have a 3.83 ERA in the team’s last 13 games, with Kansas City going 7-6 during that stretch.
Royals manager Buddy Bell said Butler, batting .291 with 42 RBIs in 66 games, has been working hard to learn to play first.
“It’s going to take some time. But he’s been on the other side of the field at third base, so he has some idea of what he’s doing over there,” Bell said. “He works hard and he wants to do this. … He’s going to get a lot of playing time at first.”