The Detroit Tigers have tasted first place a few times this season but their time there was very short.
In sole possession of the top spot in the AL Central for the first time in two months, the Tigers will try to make this stay last a little longer beginning Thursday when they seek a four-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals.
Expected to be the class of a mediocre division this year, Detroit (83-72) struggled to fulfill those expectations for much of this season. A strong finish, though, will be more than enough to erase any disappointment, and 10 wins in 15 games have put the Tigers back alone atop the Central - one game ahead of Chicago - for the first time since July 24.
A hard slide by Andy Dirks broke up a potential inning-ending double play in the eighth inning and helped the Tigers to a 5-4 win Wednesday night. Austin Jackson and Alex Avila homered for Detroit, which has won seven of eight at home against Kansas City (70-85).
“I was just trying to break up the double play and try to get a piece of him any way I could to help us score that run,” Dirks said. “That’s just kind of the way you play baseball.”
Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera was robbed of his 43rd homer and went hitless for the second straight game. He still tops the AL in batting average (.327) and RBIs (133), while trailing Texas’ Josh Hamilton by one for the home run lead.
Cabrera is 3 for 8 with a homer off scheduled starter Luis Mendoza (8-9, 4.44 ERA), while Jackson is 5 for 7 with a pair of doubles.
This is the final regular-season home game for the Tigers, winners of six of nine on their 10-game homestand and 32 of the last 43 at Comerica Park.
Kansas City, which hosts Detroit for the final three games of the season, has allowed 28 runs during a four-game skid after giving up nine in a season high-tying four-game win streak.
“I love my team,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ve played three games here, and we’re 0-3, but we’re in these games and we’re not far from the point where we are going to be consistently winning these games.”
The Tigers look to complete the sweep with help from Doug Fister (10-9, 3.43), who’s coming off perhaps the best performance of his career. The right-hander, one win shy of matching his personal best set last season, was superb in an 8-0 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, scattering seven hits while striking out seven in his first career shutout.
“I had some fine-tuning with the mechanics today, and I really focused on the little things,” Fister told the team’s official website.
That outing was in stark contrast to his previous start Sept. 17, when he was tagged for four runs and eight hits over four innings in a 5-4 loss to the White Sox.
Fister wasn’t particularly sharp in his only start this season against the Royals, giving up four runs and eight hits over six innings of an 8-7 home victory July 7.
Mendoza looks to notch a third straight effective start for Kansas City. Since getting hit hard by the White Sox on Sept. 7, the right-hander has allowed three runs and 10 hits over 12 innings in his past two starts.
He pitched into the seventh Friday in his first outing since a bout with strep throat, limiting Cleveland to two runs in a 6-3 victory, his first since Aug. 17.
Mendoza is 1-1 with a 9.30 ERA in eight appearances - three starts - against the Tigers.