The Tigers try to improve their record against AL Central rival Kansas City, loser of five straight, when the clubs open a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium on Friday.
Though Detroit (62-65) had been expected to compete for the division title this season, it sits third in the AL Central and has been unable to put together long stretches of sustained success.
Trouble against division opponents has been a major reason why the Tigers are facing a double-digit deficit in the Central. They’re 21-30 versus the division, and 3-6 against last-place Kansas City (55-72).
Detroit dropped the first six games of the season series before outscoring the Royals 33-6 during a three-game home sweep July 21-23.
“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” catcher Brandon Inge told the Tigers’ official Web site, “but they always seem to clutch up on us.”
Detroit’s season-long lack of consistency has been on display since the sweep of Kansas City, as it’s gone 10-16. The Tigers couldn’t complete a three-game sweep in Texas on Wednesday, falling 9-1 as starter Nate Robertson was reached for six earned runs and eight hits, including a career-worst five homers, in 3 2-3 innings.
“It’s all about starting pitching and (Wednesday) our starter had a tough outing,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose starters have a 4.72 ERA - among the worst in the AL.
Leyland looks for a better performance when he hands the ball to Justin Verlander (9-13, 4.60 ERA) on Friday.
The right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.69 ERA in 10 starts versus the Royals, and 3-1 with a 1.64 ERA in five outings at Kauffman Stadium. Verlander will try to continue that career dominance over Kansas City after earning his first win in more than a month his last time out.
He held Baltimore to two unearned runs and four hits, while striking out six in six innings of a 5-3 victory Saturday after compiling a 9.97 ERA in losing his previous four starts. Verlander, whose last victory had come July 20 against the Orioles, pitched six innings of two-run ball in a 2-0 defeat at Kansas City on May 14.
Verlander will face a stumbling Royals team that wrapped up a 1-8 road trip with five consecutive losses, capped by a 10-3 defeat in Cleveland on Thursday. Kansas City, loser of 12 of its last 14, committed two errors that led to four unearned runs.
“It wasn’t a good day or road trip,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “It’s frustrating, obviously.”
For the Royals to turn things around as they start a six-game homestand, they’ll need an improved effort from Brian Bannister (7-12, 5.96), who’s 0-6 with a 9.50 ERA in his last nine starts. He was roughed up for a career-worst 10 runs and 10 hits - three homers - in one inning of a 15-6 road loss to New York on Sunday.
“Just a lack of command and control,” Hillman said, “and probably at this point confidence.”
Hillman hopes Bannister can get a boost from a matchup with Detroit. The right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA in four career starts against the Tigers, and scattered two hits over seven innings of a 4-0 victory at Comerica Park on April 2.
It is unclear if third baseman Alex Gordon will be in Kansas City’s lineup after leaving Thursday’s game with upper right quad tightness. The team also placed outfielder Mitch Maier on the 15-day disabled list with multiple facial fractures after he was hit by a pitch Wednesday.