Tigers can put Royals out to pasture during 5-game series

Jamie Squire

Two hot teams meet for a key Central Division series in Detroit.

We don't often get a five-game series between teams -- though it would be fun if we did. Imagine: Ace against ace, No. 5 against No. 5. Line em up and see what happens. That would be fun.

Baseball doesn't work like that, of course, nor will the series the Tigers and Royals are playing during the next four days at Comerica Park. The reason it's next "four" days and next five: The teams are playing a day-night double-header Friday. Nonetheless, it's a long series that pits the Tigers against a team seven back in the loss column, so what happens this weekend has the potential to have a big impact on the standings.

It's safe to say the series means a bit more to the Royals than it does to the Tigers. Detroit enters with a 6-game lead over the Cleveland Indians and 7-1/2-game lead over the Royals. The Tigers are 97.5 percent likely to reach the playoffs, per Cool Standings, while Baseball Prospectus has Detroit's playoff odds at 99 percent. The Royals essentially have to sweep to get back into the race, and need to win four games to even consider a division title among realistic possibilities. More than that, the Royals cannot afford a let down, because a poor showing could also sweep them entirely out of the Wild Card hunt. From that point of view, the pressure is definitely in their clubhouse.

But, of course, the Tigers should feel some pressure to put an end to their recent slide. After winning 12 in a row, losing series to the Yankees and White Sox put a bit of a damper on things. A good showing could essentially eliminate one of the two teams still chasing them in the standings. Home cooking should be just what the manager ordered.

Until recently, the Royals, like the Tigers, were one of the hotter teams in baseball. After closing the first half on a five-game losing streak, they went 19-5 to open the second half, including a nine-game winning streak. They took three of four from the Orioles, three of four from the Red Sox, swept the Twins and White Sox, and took two of three from both the Mets and Tigers.

Billy Butler is hitting, Eric Hosmer is hitting, Mike Moustakas (who'll probably miss the series) is hitting. Justin Maxwell, acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline in a deal that made several Royals fans sick, has led the charge by hitting .400 with a 1.304 OPS in the second half. Meanwhile the pitching staff has been wonderful, as you'd expect for a hot team. You're actually able to look at these Royals and see the vision that had the team's front office believing this is the year to make a move.

But has this team come together too late? And what's a realistic winning percentage going forward? We know the Royals aren't going to keep going at a .760 clip. Maybe a .600 clip doesn't catch the Tigers, but can they stay in the Wild Card hunt?

We likely won't come out of this weekend with precise answers to those questions, but at least we'll have seen a little evidence for ourselves.

It should be fun.

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