The Kansas City Royals have put a damper on Detroit’s playoff run for the second straight season.
They can all but eliminate the Tigers from the postseason race on Sunday when the teams wrap up a three-game series at Comerica Park.
The last-place Royals (67-87) beat the Tigers 7-4 on Saturday, knocking Detroit 5 1/2 games behind the AL wild card-leading New York Yankees. The Tigers (84-71) have seven games remaining and the Yankees have eight, meaning New York can clinch at least a tie for the wild-card berth with a win and a Detroit loss.
The Tigers are 7 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland, and either a loss or an Indians win would also knock them out of the division race.
Before Saturday’s game, manager Jim Leyland was considering the possibility of ending this series just 3 1/2 games out of the wild-card lead. Afterward, however, he sounded ready to concede the race.
“Everybody else is going be more dramatic than I am,” Leyland said. “It’s sad that we’re probably not going to the postseason, but that’s the way it goes. The Cardinals and us were in the World Series last year, and it looks like neither of us is going to make it this year. That happens.”
The Royals ended last season with a three-game sweep in Detroit, costing the Tigers the AL Central crown. Still, Detroit made the postseason as the wild card and reached the World Series before falling in five games to St. Louis.
Kansas City second baseman Mark Grudzielanek continued his solid play in Detroit on Saturday. He went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and is batting .469 (15-for-32) in seven career games at Comerica - including .542 (13-for-24) this season.
Magglio Ordonez went 4-for-5 for the Tigers, raising his major league-leading batting average to .358.
Starter Justin Verlander (17-6, 3.70 ERA) will try to help Detroit stave off elimination. The right-hander has dominated the Royals in the past, going 5-0 with a 2.17 ERA in seven career starts against them - including 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in four outings this season.
However, Verlander yielded a career-worst four homers on Tuesday and was pounded for a season high-tying seven runs in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-4 loss at Cleveland. Verlander, the first Detroit pitcher to win at least 17 games in back-to-back seasons since Jack Morris in 1986-87, had won each of his previous four starts while allowing just three runs in 28 2-3 innings.
He will face left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (8-11, 5.40), who is making his first start since a stint on the DL with a strained left elbow. He has made one appearance since his Sept. 11 activation, and allowed one run in three innings of relief without getting a decision in Kansas City’s 7-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.
“It’s been almost two months,” De Le Rosa, who pitched for the first time since July 31 at Minnesota, told the Royals’ official Web site. “I felt fine, although I got a little tired at the end.”
De La Rosa has made three previous starts against the Tigers - all this season - going 1-0 with a 6.23 ERA. He is just 2-7 with a 5.68 ERA in 12 road outings, including 11 starts.