DETROIT - The message from baseball fans in Detroit has been clear over the past few weeks: Enough is enough.
A stretch that was wishfully called a "slump" for months gave birth to panic on Sunday when an 8-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners gave the Detroit Tigers their sixth series loss in nine tries since the All-Star break.
But the struggles began long before the Midsummer Classic.
After a 27-12 start to the season, the Tigers are a shocking 40-46 since mid-May. Preseason expectations clouded the distinct possibility that the last 86 games may be more telling of the team than the first 39.
Ugly play led to frustration from the fans, who voiced their displeasure by booing their team. But fans forget that, despite the longevity of this "slump," the Tigers are, miraculously, only two games out of first place.
Unfortunately for Detroit, the gap is looking much wider than it actually is.
The Kansas City Royals have been the hottest team in baseball over the last three weeks, going 17-3 and winning all six series. They took five out of seven games against Oakland, who owned the top record in baseball, and swept the San Francisco Giants during the stretch.
If the Royals can dominate two of the top teams in baseball, there may be no slowing down the most surprising division leader down the stretch.
Average winning percentage of teams on remaining schedule of AL Central contenders:
Kansas City is in the midst of a nine-game stretch of playing last-place opponents, setting the tone for its final month. The Royals will play 14 last-place teams and 15 games against winning teams. The toughest team besides the Tigers remaining on their schedule is the New York Yankees, who are just three games above .500.
Royals' remaining opponents:
Colorado Rockies (1 game)
Texas Rangers (6)
New York Yankees (4)
Minnesota Twins (3)
Cleveland Indians (6)
Detroit Tigers (6)
Boston Red Sox (4)
Chicago White Sox (7)
The Tigers, on the other hand, will play 19 games against winning teams, and 11 against last-place teams (all the Twins). Out of the seven teams remaining on its schedule, Detroit only has a winning record against the Royals (Tigers lead season series 9-4).
Tigers' remaining opponents:
Tampa Bay Rays (2 games)
Minnesota Twins (11)
New York Yankees (3)
Chicago White Sox (7)
Cleveland Indians (7)
San Francisco Giants (3)
Kansas City Royals (6)
The Royals have a proven ability to beat up on the rest of the division, going a combined 24-17 against the Indians, White Sox and Twins. On top of that, 11 of the Royals' 15 remaining games outside the central are against last-place teams.
The Tigers will definitely have to take advantage of the six remaining head-to-head battles.
Detroit has been waiting for its team to awaken from its hibernation take hold of the Central, but the opportunity to run away with the division has long passed.
The Royals have a golden opportunity to finish the season strong, so the Tigers will need to start playing like the team fans envisioned in April.
Luckily, success against the Royals in head-to-head matchups and 11 upcoming games against the Twins keep hope alive for the star-studded Tigers to land back on top for the fourth year in a row.
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