The Tigers took advantage on Monday, defeating the Royals, 6-2, in the opener of their series. Coupled with Chicago's 4-3 loss to the Indians on Tuesday afternoon, Detroit goes into the second game of the set vs. Kansas City with a chance to pull into a tie with the White Sox for the division lead.
The Tigers will get a good crack at making it two wins in a row Tuesday, when they go up against Kansas City left-hander Bruce Chen. Detroit has already seen the veteran southpaw three times this season, taking two of those games. Chen has a 3.93 ERA this season against the Tigers.
However, the last time they saw Chen was Aug. 29, when Chen picked up his 10th win of the season in a dominating performance at Kauffman Stadium. The lefty threw eight scoreless innings and gave up just four hits in the 1-0 Royals victory.
"The best way I think to put it is he's probably one of those comfortable 0-for-4s. That's how I would put him," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Chen. "He's not going to overpower you. He's not one of those guys that you're saying, 'Oh my god, I'm facing this guy tonight.' And at the end of the day, you go 0-for-4 and you're scratching your head.
"He knows exactly what he's doing, throws from different angles. He's throwing from different angles, different speeds, changes speeds. I always enjoy those guys because they've figured out what works for them and they don't panic when they can't throw it 95 mph anymore. They just figure out another way to go about their business and get you out. So I have a lot of respect for somebody like that. He's really become a good pitcher."
The losing pitcher on Aug. 29 was Anibal Sanchez, who will get a shot at revenge Tuesday. Sanchez allowed just one run in seven innings of work in the previous contest, but it proved to be one run too many.
At the time, Leyland called that outing by Sanchez his best since coming to Detroit. That start was part of a string of five starts by Sanchez that saw the right-hander post a 1.89 ERA and complete at least six innings in all five games.
That streak came to a screeching halt against Oakland in his last start as he gave up six runs (five earned) in 5 2/3 innings.
Detroit has six more games remaining with the Royals in the season's final stretch, and Kansas City manager Ned Yost said that he'll be starting his best everyday lineup against the contenders.
"It's out of fairness," he said. "But it's not any different. We put a lineup where we want to win the game. Just because we had other guys playing [against the Indians] didn't mean our intent [was different]."
Royals: Arms in the outfield
The Royals are nearing a historic accomplishment. Right fielder Jeff Francoeur leads baseball with 19 outfield assists in 2012, after left fielder Alex Gordon led the Majors with 20 outfield assists a year ago. If Francoeur finishes the season with the lead, the Royals will become the first team to have the outfield-assists leader in back-to-back seasons since the 1909 and 1910 Boston Red Sox.
Royals outfielders picked up three outfield assists in Monday's loss, with Gordon throwing out one runner and center fielder Jarrod Dyson throwing out two.
Shortstop Alcides Escobar's double off Justin Verlander on Monday was his 30th of the year. He's also swiped 31 bases, and the double made him the first Royal with 30 doubles and 30 steals since Carlos Beltran, who did it in 2002.
Tigers: Feasting against Chen
Third baseman Miguel Cabrera is one of a couple of Tigers who have hit well off Chen in their careers. Cabrera is hitting .423 against the lefty in 33 career plate appearances with three doubles and three home runs. Delmon Young has a .444 lifetime average against Chen, with three doubles.
With his 40th double of the season on Sunday, Cabrera became the only Tigers player other than Hank Greenberg to hit 40 doubles and 40 home runs in the same season.
In 16 career appearances (14 starts) against the Tigers, Chen is 5-5 with a 5.49 ERA.
Francoeur is hitting .308 with a double, a home run and eight RBIs in his career against Sanchez.