Billy Butler and the Royals are starting to show their swagger as the AL Central leaders. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)
Yes, I still think the Tigers will find a way to win the American League Central. Assuming Anibal Sanchez and Joakim Soria join Justin Verlander in coming back healthy, and in a hurry, their talent level should be enough for yet another American League Central championship.
But the Tigers’ hopes don’t, at all, rest on the fact the Royals lack crunch-time experience.
It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard from fans, readers and listeners this week that the Tigers would win the division because the Royals eventually would fade down the stretch.
Got news for ya: If that’s what you’re waiting for, you’re waiting for a bus that’s not showing up.
“We’re not scared of nothing this time of year,” Billy Butler told the Kansas City Star, noting the Royals did go 17-10 in September last year to make the Tigers sweat a bit. “We’re not scared to go out there and play aggressive. We’re figuring out ways to win games in ways we didn’t know in the past.”
And the results have been impressive. The Royals remain the hottest team in Major League Baseball, and that’s been the case for well over a month now — and, oh, by the way, they have a Pillsbury Doughboy-soft schedule down the stretch.
Outside of a pair of September three-game sets against the Tigers, one in K.C. and the other in Detroit, the Royals schedule couldn’t be much easier. Starting Wednesday night, they were to play 10 series against teams that are an unbelievable 85 games under .500.
So if you plan on doing some scoreboard watching the next six weeks, keep the moonshine within arm’s reach. Because the Royals are going to do their part.
I don’t care that Butler has as many postseason at-bats as you or me. I don’t care that Ned Yost, once upon a time, saw his Brewers nearly crash and burn down the stretch. It doesn’t matter one bit to me that the Royals haven’t played postseason baseball since Miguel Cabrera was wearing Huggies.
Like the great MLB Network analyst Brian Kenny told Detroit Sports 105.1’s Matt Dery on Wednesday afternoon, talent far outweighs postseason experience. Just ask the 2006 Tigers, the 2008 Rays or the 2012 Orioles. Like them, these Royals have the talent to get it done — especially if the Tigers continue to barely play .500 baseball, as they have since June 1.
Don’t kid yourself. The Royals’ starting pitching is great, if not as sexy as the Tigers. Their offense finally has turned a corner. And their bullpen makes the Tigers’ look like a clown show, bro.
And they have the wins to prove all that.
“Now, we’re like, ‘This is what we’re expected to do,” Yost told the Kansas City Star. “We’ve shown we can play with the Tigers.”
Well, in the standings anyway. In the season series, Detroit still leads, 9-4.
But those games were a long time ago, when the Tigers were cruising and the Royals were cussing.
Now, the script’s been flipped.
Will that be the case at regular season’s end? I’m not ready to say that, but I’m nowhere near confident enough to rule it out, either.
Make it nine
The Giants weren't in a very good mood after what went down in Wrigley Field on Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning.
And I can’t say I blame them, following their apparent 2-0 loss to the Cubs that lasted just 4.5 innings. It was in the fifth inning that rains struck Chicago – and apparently caught the Wrigley Field grounds crew by such surprise, they couldn’t get the tarp down in time.
That made for a heck of a mess that even 100 or more bags of Diamond Dry couldn’t fix.
The surface was so saturated, the field eventually was ruled unplayable – but not until 1:16 in the morning, after a rain delay of four-and-a-half hours.
The Cubs played the role of the good guys, saying they tried to get the game in, given the Giants are in a dogfight with the Dodgers for the National League West championship. The Giants, though, were not in anything resembling a forgiving frame of mind. They protested the game, and get this: They actually won the protest.
“I hope they listen and watch what happened there,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters hours before MLB approved the protest. “In this day and time, it shouldn’t happen. It can’t happen with the importance of these games.”
MLB should use this decision as a push to change the rules for good. Current regulations say a game can be considered final if rain arrives after the trailing team has taken its at-bats in the fifth inning.
Make all games have to go at least nine innings to be considered official, even if that means suspending games and making them up the next day — or, if necessary, even later in the season. That's what they will be in Chicago on Thursday.
Sure, that causes some headaches, particularly in the pitching-depth department, but no more than a 4.5-inning potentially determining a division race.
Cash for numerals
You’ve heard the stories about one player buying the jersey number from one player. Often the price is cash, believed to be in the thousands of dollars. After signing his free-agent contract with the Tigers in November 2012, Torii Hunter bought Rick
Porcello’s No. 48 by pledging to donate money to Hurricane Sandy-ravaged New Jersey, Porcello’s home state.
But here’s a new one, and a pricey one.
After he was traded from the Red Sox to the Cardinals, John Lackey went shopping for Pat Neshek’s No. 41 — and finally met the price, a Babe Ruth autographed baseball. Neshek is an avid collector of baseball memorabilia, so the deal was quite a boon for him.
And quite the cost for Lackey. Just goes to show how much these guys like their number.
That deal was so good for Neshek, some on Twitter suggested Lackey got ripped off worse than the Red Sox – when they actually traded Ruth to the Yankees.
For me, it brings to mind a painful reminder of the time I traded a Cal Ripken rookie card for a Chris Webber rookie card. I wish I would’ve taken a timeout to think about that one a little bit longer.
Around the horn
Two longtime major-leaguers recently have suggested they might retire at season’s end: White Sox slugger Adam Dunn and Phillies starting pitcher A.J. Burnett. Of course, both guys have said that before, so don’t buy the cakes or gold watches just yet.
… In discussing the state of the ballpark situation in Oakland, outgoing commissioner Bud Selig said the Coliseum “reminds me of County Stadium in its final days, and of Shea Stadium. And that's not a compliment.” I found that a bit of a stretch. County Stadium in Milwaukee was a riot.
… The Tigers are going after Cuban center fielder Rusney Castillo, who would be their first big-money international signing. Let’s hope his fate is better than that of Fu-Te Ni and Masao Kida.
Three up …
1. Tuesday’s Tigers box score was priceless: W — Jim Johnson. L — Grant Balfour. S – Joe Nathan. Lots of success between those three — just not much this year.
2. Lloyd McClendon’s Mariners went 4-2 in two series against the Tigers. As their longtime hitting coach, McClendon helped exposed some Tigers’ cold zones.
3. Good to see the Diamondbacks bringing manager Kirk Gibson for at least one more season. He deserves one crack to work with new exec Tony La Russa.
… Three down
1. Tigers fans don’t need to be told Grant Balfour is a jerk, but there was more proof Tuesday, when the Rays reliever blamed an awful outing on a teammate.
2. It’s safe to say the Nick Swisher tenure in Cleveland has been a disaster. He’s had two sub-par seasons, and now is out after two knee surgeries.
3. The Alex Gordon MVP campaign is kind of ridiculous, and just proves how much some folks give too much weight to defense. The award is Mike Trout’s, finally.
40 — Fastballs Tigers closer Joe Nathan has thrown in his last five appearances.
0 — Swings and misses Nathan has gotten on those fastballs, according to ESPN research.
1-10 — Record for Reds reliever J.J. Hoover, after taking the loss Tuesday night. Per Elias Sports Bureau, in the Reds’ 126th game, Hoover got to double-digit losses faster than any reliever since Greg McMichael of the Mets in 1997.
8/21/84 — Lance Parrish hits a first-inning grand slam off future Tigers broadcaster Lary Sorensen as Detroit coasts to a 12-6 victory over Oakland — and an 83-44 record on the season.
He said it
“(If) you’re going to come out, root for the Rays. We’d appreciate that.”
Joe Maddon, Rays manager, voicing his displeasure to reporters recently, after the Tropicana Field fans gave a rousing ovation to retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
Tony Paul can be heard live on Detroit Sports 105.1 from noon-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter at tonypaul1984.