Entering the season, the American League Central race was expected to come down to the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
The Kansas City Royals are intent on proving it could be a three-team battle.
The Royals won a 9-8 thriller against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, and they carry a 10-7 record into their four-game road series against the Detroit Tigers, which begins on Friday.
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny feels his squad will surprise a lot of people this season.
“I can honestly say I’ve never been around a team like this,” Matheny said. “Regardless what happens, they just believe. They’re saying the right things, and that’s fine and good, you want that positive energy in there. But then it comes down to, they’re willing to do whatever they’ve got to do to make it happen. That’s what makes us so special.”
Kansas City rallied from a four-run deficit in its latest victory. Salvador Perez, who is batting .279 with five homers and 12 RBIs, hit a walk-off single in the ninth inning.
The team has also received a boost from former Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana, who leads the club in RBIs (14) and walks (11).
“We know what we’ve got to do,” Perez said. “These players in this locker room, they know their job. One of the good things we have is we like to play hard to the last out.”
Royals left-hander Mike Minor (1-1, 5.17 ERA) will start the series opener against the Tigers. In his last start, on Saturday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays, Minor allowed four runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
He has faced the Tigers nine times in his career, including three starts, posting a 1-2 record and 4.82 ERA.
Tigers right-hander Casey Mize (1-1, 3.38 ERA) will oppose Minor. Mize gave up five runs, including three homers, in a five-inning outing at Oakland on Saturday. The long balls came during the first two innings, but the rookie pitcher survived three more frames, showing signs of growth.
“It’s something that could have snowballed and turned into an even worse outing,” he said. “I was able to put up a couple of zeros, and then unfortunately they were able to put up another run on a slow-developing, (potential) double-play ground ball. …
“I honestly felt like I made a lot of quality pitches after inning two.”
Mize collected his first career victory two starts ago, when he tossed seven shutout innings against the Houston Astros. He’s still seeking his first win at his home park. He’ll be facing Kansas City for the first time.
The Tigers dropped two of three games to Pittsburgh this week. The Pirates won the series finale 4-2 on Thursday behind two run-scoring singles in the eighth inning.
“That’s kind of the difference in the series,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said. “They put the ball in play at critical moments and got some hits.”
One positive development for Detroit on Thursday was JaCoby Jones’ performance. The center fielder hit his first homer of the season and added a single.
“We need JaCoby’s energy, we need him to be able to create some momentum at the bottom of the order when we turn the order around,” Hinch said. “I love it for JaCoby more than anybody because he’s been working and just having a hard time taking it into the game. Today, we saw that production.”
–Field Level Media