Tigers travel to Kansas City to battle second-place Royals

Detroit leads AL Central Division by 2 games


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Detroit Tigers (14-9) will look to continue a mini hot streak on Friday as they take on the resurgent Royals (14-13) this weekend at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Detroit bounced back from a 4-5 stretch to win four of its last five, and added another major piece to the roster Friday with the signing of relief pitcher Joel Hanrahan.

Hanrahan made two National League All-star teams with the Pirates before undergoing Tommy John surgery and sitting out the entire 2013 season. General Manager Dave Dombrowski made the announcement after watching the bullpen post the second-worst ERA in the MLB through 23 games.

The former closer will be placed immediately on the 15-day disabled list as his rehab continues. When he returns he will likely take on a setup role in the 7th or 8th innings.

KC, which started the season 4-7, fought its way back into second place in the American League Central Division with a 2-1 series win over the Toronto Blue Jays during the week.

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One team the Royals haven't been able to figure out is the Tigers. Detroit not only swept a rain-shortened series between the division rivals to start the 2014 season, but also took 24 of 36 meetings over the previous two seasons.

TV: 8:10 p.m. ET, FSN Detroit, FSN Kansas City

Detroit will send Rick Porcello to the mound, hoping the 25-year-old can continue his recent winning ways. Porcello notched wins in his two previous outings improved his record to 3-1 with a 3.96 ERA.

Though he didn't pitch in any of Detroit's 18 games against the Royals in 2013, Porcello faced the young Kansas City offense four times in 2012. The young right-hander surrendered 10 runs in 22 innings, but managed to help Detroit to three victories.

On Friday, he'll match up against Royals workhorse James Shields.

Shields is off to another fantastic start in 2014, owning a 2.03 ERA through six starts. The veteran last saw Detroit on Opening Day, when he allowed his most earned runs (3) of the season and failed to record a decision.

Kansas City's ace has struggled throughout his career against Detroit, largely due to the success of Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera hits .419 with seven doubles and two home runs lifetime against Shields in 43 at bats. Alex Avila, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson have also owned Shields throughout their careers, each hitting over .300.

Porcello experiences similar struggles with the Kansas City lineup. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer hit a combined .333 with four home runs and 15 RBI against Detroit's starter.

If the past numbers hold up, tonight's game could quickly turn into a high-scoring affair Friday despite to hot starters taking the hill.

History also shows these teams are likely to play three extremely close, if possibly high-scoring, games during the series. Of the 18 head-to-head games they played in 2013, 10 of them were decided by one run and all but two of them were decided by less than four runs.

The Tigers continued that trend in this budding rivalry with two one-run victories against the Royals to start the 2014 season.

As such, the Detroit bullpen should play a crucial role this weekend. Luckily for first-year manager Brad Ausmus, the back-end of that bullpen is starting to look  stronger.

Joba Chamberlain has settled into his eighth-inning role nicely since surrendering two runs to the White Sox on April 24. Three straight scoreless outings have shaved his ERA down to 4.35 and he is tied for the team lead in holds, with four.

In the ninth inning, closer Joe Nathan has rounded into form and looks like the pitcher that Detroit wanted when they signed his $20 million-dollar two-year contract this offseason. Nathan surrendered just one run in his past seven innings of work: A home run by Albert Pujols on April 19.

Detroit owns a two-game lead over the Royals in the AL Central heading into this three-game series.