Detroit Tigers (81-59) at Kansas City Royals (73-57)
Time/Place: 8:10 p.m., Kauffman Stadium
SB Nation blog: Royals Review
The Royals might be falling out of the playoff race, but it's definitely not James Shields' fault. In his last five starts -- including a win over the Tigers at Comerica Park on August 16th -- Shields is 4-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. His 30-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio during this stretch isn't much better than his 2.64 season mark, but his recent stretch -- 24 strikeouts in his last three starts -- is encouraging for the Royals. It's hard to imagine Shields being much better in 2014 than he was this year, but a return to his pre-2013 strikeout rate might help his chances.
Despite seeing him four times already, the Tigers haven't been able to do anything against Shields. He has logged a whopping 29 innings against the Tigers this season, allowing just eight runs. He only has 17 strikeouts to nine walks in those four starts, but that hasn't stopped him from inducing a boatload of ugly swings from Tigers hitters. He has struggled at home this year though, allowing a 4.13 ERA and 1.31 WHIP at Kauffman Stadium.
Sanchez, the least-embarrassed starter from the Oakland series, rebounded nicely against the Indians by allowing three runs in 6 2/3 innings in a 10-5 Tigers win. He only struck out five -- a far cry from the 11 Indians he fanned in their last meeting -- but only walked one and wasn't in any trouble after the first inning.
Kauffman Stadium has been both kind and cruel to Sanchez since he joined the Tigers. He has allowed just two runs in 13 innings there, but is 0-2 thanks to a pair of lackadaisical efforts from the Tigers' offense. The Royals haven't been able to figure him out at Comerica either; in 29 1/3 innings against the Royals in a Tigers uniform, Sanchez has only allowed three runs.
Obligatory part where I talk about the Royals' playoff chances
Unless things significantly change in the Rays-Angels game -- currently 6-2 Angels as of 12:30 AM the night before you read this -- the Royals will be 4 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second Wild Card slot. It's simple, really: the Royals need to win a lot, and they still need help. It's possible, though. Tampa is struggling, New York's recent cupcake schedule is over, and Baltimore's schedule isn't any better. Like the Indians, the Royals are hoping to get hot during the last couple weeks and leapfrog the bloodbath that is the AL East to sneak into a one-game playoff. It's worth mentioning that the Indians and Royals have six games left against each other.
I know everyone is saying that Wednesday's 20-4 bludgeoning at the hands of the Boston Red Sox doesn't mean anything but... OK, it doesn't mean anything. Sure, the Tigers sit a full three games behind the Red Sox for home field advantage, but we've been over how brutal the AL East's schedule is over the last few weeks of the season. Tonight, it might pay off to be a bit more aggressive against Shields than we have seen in previous games. Teams have had success when jumping on Shields early in the game, and being more aggressive early in the count -- when Shields is almost exclusively a fastball-curveball pitcher -- may help in this regard.
The Tigers finally score a run in support of Sanchez at Kauffman Stadium.