Playing in desperation and in spite of the strategy of manager Ned Yost, the Kansas City Royals salvaged the finale of their biggest series in decades, topping the Detroit Tigers 5–2. The Tigers may be unhappy with their performance in today's loss, but Detroit has to be thrilled by accomplishing just what they needed to do this weekend — win the series.
The Tigers entered the series against the Royals just a half-game up in the standings. A best-case-scenario three-game sweep would have been nice, but the Tigers did do the next best thing by taking 2-of-3. They head back to Detroit for a seven game, season-ending homestand, owning a 1 1/2 game advantage over the Royals in the AL Central.
The Royals are on the road for the final week of the season, starting the trip by finishing their suspended game with the Indians Monday. Three outs are needed to complete a Tribe win, the Royals are down two runs in the 10th. If the 4–2 score holds, the Tigers will start their Monday night game against the White Sox, owners of a two-game lead.
In his last appearance against the Tigers two weeks ago, Jeremy Guthrie (W, 12–11) was battered for eight runs in just 2 2/3 innings. Guthrie was far better today, pitching into the sixth, allowing just two runs, one earned, on five hits in his 5 1/3 innings.
Handing the Royals' bullpen a lead is the recipe for a loss, as the Tigers found out. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland slammed a scoreless door with malice, the last seven batters going down in order, shutting down the Tigers one hit over the 3 2/3 innings. Holland pitched the ninth, earning his 43rd save of the season.
Rick Porcello (L, 15–12) wasn't able to match the performances Detroit received from Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in games one and two of the series. Showing an uncharacteristic lack of command, Porcello was yanked having tossed 80 pitches in just 3 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on nine hits, walking two and striking out one.
Compared to Saturday's dramatics, Detroit's bullpen was excellent. Manager Brad Ausmus made use of his expanded roster by trotting six relief pitchers to the mound, getting 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
When he wasn't asked to lay down a bunt, Alcides Escobar wrapped up a huge 8-for-15 series with two hits and an RBI. When allowed to actually swing the bat, Norichika Aoki hurt the Tigers by tripling in a pair of runs. In what may have been his final home game wearing Royals blue, DH Billy Butler added two hits and an RBI for the winners. Alex Gordon chipped in an RBI double to give the Royals their final 5–2 advantage.
The Tigers had their chances, but were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Ian Kinsler's solo home run supplied all of the offense, Detroit's second run scoring on an error by Mike Moustakas.
The season has been a grind, there has been more drama than anticipated and a playoff spot is still up for grabs. But the Tigers are where they need to be, in charge of their own destiny. The vast majority of MLB teams would love to be in the Tigers' shoes — leading the division, seven games left to play, all seven against a pair of under .500 teams.
The Tigers are in position to make the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year. It's time to lock down a spot in the post season.
Ian Kinsler: Still struggling at the plate (.644 OPS in September), Kinsler did homer for the second time this week. A solo shot, number 16 on the season, was one of the few offensive highlights for the Tigers (MLB.com video).
J.D. Martinez: His remarkable September continuing, Martinez was the only Tiger with two hits.
Al Alburquerque: You could not ask for more from Alburquerque, who entered the game far earlier than normal. Alburquerque pitched the fifth and sixth innings, setting Kansas City down in order.
Joakim Soria: Call off the Amber Alert. Soria has been found and actually pitched this afternoon, retiring both batters he faced. Of course, it was after the Tigers were down 5–2 due to Phil Coke starting the seventh by giving up a run. But he pitched!
Who is this "Soria" character?— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) September 21, 2014
The bullpen: Overall, the bullpen was excellent in allowing just one run in 4 2/3 innings. Jim Johnson (1/3 IP), Blaine Hardy (1/3 IP), Alburquerque (2 IP), Soira (2/3 IP), and Kyle Ryan (1 IP) all had scoreless outings.
Rick Porcello: A very ineffective and inefficient afternoon for Porcello, who struggled mightily in his 3 1/3 innings. When Porcello is on his game, he's hitting the 80 pitch count in the seventh. He exited today's action after throwing his 80th pitch with one out in the fourth.
Phil Coke: Of the six relievers used, Coke was the only one to allow a run or hit.
Miguel Cabrera: Getting a semi-day off as the DH, today was a rare bad September game for the slugger. Cabrera was 0-for-4, bouncing into an inning-ending double play in his only at-bat with a runner in scoring position.
Rajai Davis: There would be no runners in scoring position magic from Davis today. He left the bases full in the second, bouncing out to end the inning. Davis also stranded a runner in scoring position in the fourth on an inning-ending comebacker.
The offense: Had chances against a pitcher they handily beat two weeks ago, coming up short. Once the Royals got to the lock-down portion of their bullpen owning a lead? Game over, man. Game over.
The back-end of the Royals' bullpen: So THAT'S what the seventh through ninth innings are supposed to look like!
There were two small changes to the Tigers' lineup for the series finale. Andrew Romine got the start at shortstop over Eugenio Suarez. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez switched positions, Cabrera the DH and Martinez getting the start at first base.
Alex Avila is slowly improving, but missed his sixth consecutive game due to lingering concussion-like symptoms. Bryan Holaday received his fifth start this week behind the plate
The Tigers had drawn first blood in the first two games of the series. That changed this afternoon, the Royals roughing up Rick Porcello for four hits, including three straight two-out singles in the bottom of the first. Eric Hosmer's RBI single allowed the Royals to take a 1–0 lead.
The Tigers loaded the bases without benefit of a hit in the second (two walks and a hit batsman), but failed to score against Guthrie. Given a chance to at least tie the game, Rajai Davis bounced to short, stranding three.
Porcello continued to struggle in the second, giving up a two-out RBI double to Alcides Escobar. It was Escobar's second base hit of the day and sixth in two days.
Guthrie had not allowed a hit through two innings, Ian Kinsler giving Detroit their first hit and run in one swing of the bat. He cut the Royals' lead to 2–1, leading off the third with his 16th home run of the season. Kinsler's high fly ball hugged the left field foul line, just staying to the right of the foul pole.
Gordon showed off his Gold Glove defense on the very next play to retire Torii Hunter.
Top of four, the Tigers' used small ball and a Royals' error to knot the game at 2-all. J.D. Martinez legged out a leadoff infield single. Holaday and Martinez pulled off a perfect one-out hit and run, Holaday bouncing a single through the right side, Martinez racing to third. Romine followed by lifting a fly ball to left, both runners tagging. Martinez scored and Holaday reached second as Mike Moustakas couldn't handle the relay throw to the middle of the infield. The Tigers couldn't convert on the E-5, Davis ending the threat on a comebacker to Guthrie.
Despite receiving a huge amount of deserved criticism, there were more Ned Yost bunt hijinks in the fourth. Porcello allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach base. Once again, Yost took the bat out of the hands of a smoking hot hitter, asking him to lay down a bunt. In this case it was Escobar, who had six hits in his last seven at-bats against Tigers' pitching. Escobar popped up the sacrifice attempt for the first out of the frame.
But Norichika Aoki saved Yost from himself by yanking a ground ball just past a diving Victor Martinez and into the right field corner. By the time Hunter got the ball in, Aoki's two RBI triple had cleared the bases, also ending a bad outing from Porcello.
Brad Ausmus went to his bullpen early and often. Jim Johnson replaced Porcello, who did his damnedest to turn a fire into an inferno by hitting Lorenzo Cain. Cain immediately stole second, the Tigers then electing to intentionally walk Hosmer. Shockingly, the bullpen would wriggle out of further trouble in spite of loading the bases. Johnson struck out Billy Butler (in what many are saying will be his last home game as a Royal), Blaine Hardy taking over to strike out Alex Gordon.
Top of six, the Tigers were on the prowl thanks to back-to-back singles from Victor and J.D. Martinez. One down and two on, Yost went to his lights-out back of the pen an inning early, bringing on Kelvin Herrera to replace Guthrie. With Holaday due up, it seemed to be an obvious pinch-hitting situation to bring in James McCann, but Ausmus elected to let Holaday bat. It didn't work and Holaday popped up for the second out. Ausmus did pinch-hit for Romine, but Tyler Collins was overwhelmed by Herrera's high-90s fastball, striking out to end the threat.
Detroit did receive an excellent two innings from Al Alburquerque, who retired all six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth.
The Tigers could do nothing against the hard-throwing Herrera, who was able to the bridge a two inning gap to the setup man, Wade Davis. Two down in the seventh, Hunter did line a double to left. But Cabrera bounced to short, ending the mini-threat and Herrera's two shutout innings.
Phil Coke started the bottom the seventh, only to give up a run on two hits (not helping matters was a stolen base from Terrance Gore and a Holaday passed ball), pulled after 1/3 of an inning.
Ausmus remembered Joakim Soria could do more than just warm up, actually entering the game to take over for Coke. Soria got the last two outs of the seventh, but the Tigers were down 5–2.
Butler singled in the seventh, then replaced by Gore to end what was likely his final home game as a Royal. Kansas City holds a team option on the final season of Butler's contract, worth a hefty $12.5 million. Strictly a DH, his numbers in decline and having a career-worst season (.266/.318/.373, 9 HR, 59 RBI), Butler is unlikely to return to Kansas City.
Showing why you need to take a lead into the late innings against the Royals, Davis followed Herrera by blowing the Tigers away in the eighth. Three up, three down, two via strikeout.
The game dragged on, taking over three hours to complete. But the end came swiftly. Royals closer Greg Holland needed only nine pitches to retire the side in order, allowing the Royals to salvage one of the three games.
STREAKS AND STATS:
Ian Kinsler's home run in the third was also his 86th RBI, tying his single-season career high. Kinsler also drove in 86 runs in 2009.
Rick Porcello was pulled after 3 1/3 innings today, the second time in four September starts where he could not get out of the fourth inning. Porcello lasted only three innings while allowing five runs to the Giants on September 5.
Porcello has been either on or off in his four outings this month. He's allowed 13 earned runs in 21 innings, raising his September ERA to 5.57.
Porcello last victory was August 26, raising his record to 15–8, the win total among league leaders. In his four starts previous to today, Porcello was 0–3, the Tigers losing all four.
J.D. Martinez singled twice, extending his hitting streak to seven games.
Detroit may have lost today, but won the season series over Kansas City, 13–6.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
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