Unlike 2012, when Detroit sat third in the AL Central at the All-Star break, the Tigers currently lead the division.
That doesn’t mean they’re satisfied with their position.
The visiting Tigers look to pick up where they left off and hand the Kansas City Royals a sixth consecutive loss Friday night.
At this point last season, Detroit was 3 1/2 games out of first in the Central, but ultimately won 15 of the last 22 to win the division. The Tigers (52-42) currently have a 1 1/2-game lead over Cleveland, but collectively feel they have not hit their stride.
“I don’t think we’ve showed our potential yet,” pitcher Justin Verlander told the Tigers’ official website. “I think we’ve been a little bit inconsistent, but hey, you can’t be too upset. We’re in first place and that’s where we want to be.”
The Tigers have won nine of 13 since losing six of seven, and took two of three from Texas prior to the break.
Paced by reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera the Tigers lead the majors with a .281 batting average and are second with 477 runs and a .348 on-base percentage.
Looking to become the first player ever to record back-to-back Triple Crown seasons, Cabrera leads the majors in average (.365), RBIs (95) and is second in homers (30). He’s hit .397 in his last 16 games at Kansas City (43-49).
Detroit starting pitchers also lead the AL with 44 victories, but scheduled starter Anibal Sanchez (7-6, 2.93 ERA) allowed five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 6-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 11 in his second start since returning from a strained shoulder.
“I think the more important thing is this is my second start back from the DL,” said Sanchez, who yielded a run in five innings of a 9-4 win at Cleveland on July 6. “Everything is there, so I just have to work a little bit more with my command.”
The right-hander gave up a run and 10 hits over 16 innings while going 1-1 against the Royals last season. He tossed a three-hitter and struck out 10 during a 2-0 win over Kansas City on Sept. 25.
Kansas City is 3-2 against the Tigers this season, but eight games behind the reigning AL champs in the Central. That gap was just five as recently as July 9, but the Royals were outscored 30-12 during their skid heading into the break.
“We’re still in the midst of this tough stretch,” manager Ned Yost told the team’s official website. “You’ve got to keep your head above water.”
Catcher Salvador Perez was one of three Kansas City All-Stars, but he’s 2 for 27 in his last seven games.
Fellow All-Star Alex Gordon is 3 for 22 with 11 strikeouts in the last six. He went 1 for 11 when the Royals took two of three at home from Detroit last month.
Kansas City starter Ervin Santana (5-6, 3.37) had gone 2-0 with a 2.27 ERA while delivering seven straight quality starts before allowing eight runs and 10 hits in five innings of an 8-4 loss to the New York Yankees on July 11.
The right-hander lasted at least six innings in each of his 17 previous starts.
Facing the Tigers for the first time with Kansas City, Santana was 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA in his last seven starts against them with the Angels.