In less than a week the Kansas City Royals will have the eyes of the baseball world watching the 83rd All-Star Game at Kauffman Stadium, but for now the team has to be concerned with trying to finish the first half of the 2012 campaign strong as they play the second of a three-game set against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
Sitting fourth in the American League Central, eight games below .500 and 8 1/2 games out of contention, the Royals have dropped three of their last four outings and six of their last eight contests overall after bowing to Detroit in the series opener on Friday, 4-2.
Starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez was responsible for all four runs scored by Detroit, allowing six hits and three walks, while striking out two over 5 2/3 innings on the road.
"I was around the plate and did some good things," said Sanchez. "But the results weren't good."
Mike Moustakas and Brayan Pena both hit doubles and scored for the visitors who are still one game over .500 (23-22) away from home.
As for the Tigers, third in the division and 4 1/2 games off the pace, their third straight win came courtesy of Quintin Berry and Delmon Young who both plated a pair, the latter hitting his eighth home run of the season. Drew Smyly was credited with his fourth win of the season as he permitted just two runs on six hits and struck out a career-high 10 in six innings. Jose Valverde was credited with his 16th save of the season as he pitched a perfect ninth for the home team.
"Tonight, my curveball was better than it's been all year," Smyly said of his control. "When you have your pitches going, it makes it easy."
Victorious in just one of his seven decisions to this point in the campaign, Doug Fister tries to finish up the first half of the season on a high note as he takes the mound for the Tigers this afternoon.
The right-hander has dropped three straight decisions and four of his last five outings overall, with a 4-1 win over Colorado on June 16 as his only saving grace. Fister was last in action earlier this week when he permitted six runs on eight hits, while striking out four, in just four innings of work versus the Minnesota Twins at home.
Originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2006, the California native has a career mark of 1-2 with a 3.64 ERA versus KC in five appearances.
As for the Royals, their plan is to hand the ball to Bruce Chen in hopes that he can capture his third win in four outings.
Like Fister, Chen's most recent performance took place against the Twins on July 1, with the left-hander giving up six runs on six hits, three of those being home runs, over the course of 5 2/3 innings of what became a 10-8 road loss for Kansas City.
Chen has pitched against Detroit 14 times previously in his career, displaying a 4-4 record with a 5.61 ERA.
The Tigers are currently fourth in the AL in hitting at .266, batting a slightly better .274 over the last seven days thanks to the efforts of Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson. The former has 14 hits in his last 25 at-bats, adding five walks while knocking in eight runs and scoring six times.
Jackson has struck out 10 times in his last 30 at-bats, yet has somehow matched Cabrera in total bases (22) during the stretch and has scored nine runs.
Kansas City has been struggling with power numbers again this season, ranking last in the American League in home runs with just 66, which is barely half the number posted by the New York Yankees (126) in the same number of games.
Keeping the Royals from falling completely off the map, the pitching staff is tied for the second-most shutouts in the AL at this stage with eight, although the squad's overall ERA is close to the bottom at 4.29.