American League Central race goes down to the wire between Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals
As the Major League Baseball season draws to a close and many division races have been long locked up, the American League Central remains as up in the air as it did in the middle of August.
Though the Detroit Tigers held a four game lead over the Kansas City Royals at the trading deadline, the last day to add players for the postseason roster and the beginning of the stretch run of the regular season, the two teams have traded the top spot in the AL Central and are figured for an intense final week of the regular season.
By the middle of August, the Tigers not only gave away their divisional lead to the Royals, but fell a full three games behind Kansas City on Aug. 23.
At the time, it seemed like their prized midseason acquisition, starting pitcher David Price, had not even been enough to secure the division title—let alone postseason and World Series hopes.
Price was acquired on July 31 from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a three-team trade with the Rays and the Mariners and made his debut six days later. Price tossed 8 2/3 innings in his debut against the New York Yankees, giving up three runs but striking out 10 batters and not giving up a walk.
Since the beginning of September, neither team has been able to gain separation from the other, and with the Oakland Athletics the strongest contender a wild card spot and the Seattle Mariners just behind the Royals, the two teams remain almost exclusively focused on capturing the division crown.
The two teams were last tied in the standings on Sept. 9, and since then, the Tigers have gone 6-3 to gain a two-and-a-half game lead over the Royals.
Armed with arguably the best pitching staff in baseball—with Cy Young winners Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, accompanied by Rick Porcello and the now-injured Anibal Sanchez—the Tigers held the divisional lead for much of the year.
Detriot is also home to one of baseball’s top offenses, led by first baseman Miguel Cabrera, a two-time Most Valuable Player award winner, and have scored 731 runs this year, second most in the MLB.
The offense also ranks within the top five in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, hits and runs batted in. Yet, the Tigers have had difficulty putting away a Kansas City team that has scored just 613 runs this year—17th across baseball.
What the Royals lack in offense, they make up in pitching and defense, especially in the bullpen.
The Royals have, at best, a league- average offense but make up for it with one of the best bullpens corps in baseball.
The Royals have converted 80 percent of all save opportunities thus far this year, and the team’s bullpen has given up just 31 home runs, the fourth fewest in baseball. Led by closer Greg Holland, who has converted 43 of 45 save opportunities to wins, the Royals have hung on behind the high-powered Tigers.
The Royals held first place for a few days in mid-June, but Detroit came storming back to seize a division lead they would hold until mid-September. Since then, Kansas City has been as far as six games out of first place, far enough for Detroit to get comfortable but close enough that Kansas City could still make a run for the title.
The two teams met for a pivotal three-game series last Friday through Sunday, with Detroit taking two of the three games to take a two-game divisional lead entering play on Monday.
With a strong September thus far, the upstart Royals are looking to do just that and are taking the divisional race down to the wire.