Tigers, Royals begin crucial set at Comerica Park

Both the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals have followed up a hot stretch with some recent struggles.

The two AL Central rivals begin a five-game series that spans four days, with the Royals hoping to make up some ground on the first-place Tigers in Thursday's opener.

Detroit owns a six-game edge over Cleveland for the top spot in the division and is 7 1/2 games ahead of Kansas City, which trails the AL's second wild card spot by 4 1/2 contests. That makes this a big series for both teams and they'll see plenty of each other with a doubleheader on tap for Friday.

The Royals thrust themselves back into the playoff picture by winning each of their first seven series following the All-Star break. That includes taking two of three from the Tigers at home from July 19-21, giving them a 5-3 advantage in the season series.

Kansas City won for the 17th time in 20 games by winning Monday's opener with the Miami Marlins, but had its string of series victories snapped after losing the final two games of the set. That gave the Royals back-to-back losses for the first time since July 21-22 and a 6-4 record on a 10-game homestand.

"It's a tough one to swallow, but at the same time we've just got to look ahead. We've got five games in Detroit and we can make up some serious ground," said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer following Wednesday's 5-2 setback to the Marlins.

The Tigers prevented the Royals from gaining too much ground in the AL Central by winning 12 straight from July 26-Aug. 8. However, they are just 2-4 in six games since the streak and needed Wednesday's 6-4 victory to avoid getting swept in three games by the last-place Chicago White Sox.

Miguel Cabrera hit a three-run homer in yesterday's win and leads the majors with a .360 batting average and 114 RBI. He is also second with 38 homers despite a nagging abdominal strain as well as some other bumps and bruises.

"Hopefully we can get him healthy because as the manager, you almost feel bad, to be honest with you, playing him, because I can see that he's hurting some," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "But he wanted to play today and I put him in there."

Cabrera is 11-for-32 (.344) lifetime versus tonight's starter for the Royals, Jeremy Guthrie, with three homers and eight RBI.

Guthrie had a string of four straight winning starts snapped on Saturday with a 5-3 loss to Boston. He allowed all five runs on 10 hits over six innings of work, striking out five while logging a career-high 123 pitches.

The right-hander, now 12-8 with a 4.10 earned run average in 24 starts this season, had given up just three runs over his previous three starts, though his winning streak began with a 6-5 win over Detroit on July 20. Guthrie allowed five runs on 10 hits over six innings in that game as well, leaving the 34-year-old 7-3 lifetime in this matchup with a 4.06 ERA in 16 games (13 starts).

The Tigers counter with Anibal Sanchez, who has given up two runs or fewer in five straight and eight of his past nine starts.

The right-handed Sanchez won his third straight decision on Saturday, holding the New York Yankees to a pair of runs on four hits and a walk over seven innings. He also struck out eight while improving to 10-7 with a 2.58 ERA in 20 starts this season.

Sanchez, 29, lost at Kansas City on July 19 despite six innings of one-run ball. He minimized the damage despite four hits and five walks allowed, but dropped a 1-0 decision.

Sanchez has allowed just two runs over 22 career innings versus the Royals, posting a 0.82 ERA in three starts but producing just a 1-2 record.