Tigers, Royals take to national stage for series rubber match

Final meeting between teams until Aug. 4

(Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

DETROIT – The eyes of the baseball world will turn to the AL Central Sunday night, as the Tigers and Royals take to national television for the rubber match of a three-game set in Detroit.

The Tigers stole Game 1, courtesy of a walkoff throwing error in the 9th, before dropping Game 2 to set up one of the most important games of the early season.

Last weekend, the Central's top two teams split a four-game series in Kansas City. Now, with the season series tied at 3-3, the Tigers and Royals have one last chance to gain the upper hand before a very long time apart.

First Pitch: 8:00 p.m. on ESPN

When the final out is recorded Sunday night, the Tigers and Royals will go their separate ways for the better part of three months. That's right, after playing seven times in the span of 10 games, the top two Central contenders won't meet again until Aug. 4, when the season is two-thirds over.

Sunday marks the last chance in 75 games for the Tigers to have a say in the Royals' record. But with Shane Greene on the mound, the mood in the clubhouse can't be one of overwhelming confidence.

Greene was well on his way to winning the April Cy Young award after three starts, allowing just one earned run over 23 innings. The Twins, Pirates and White Sox mustered only 12 hits, while striking out 11 times, as Greene jumped out with a 3-0 record for Detroit.

It's been all downhill from there. Sharply downhill.

Greene surrendered nine hits in each of his next two outings, losing to the Indians and Twins by allowing a total of 15 earned runs in 8.1 innings. Tuesday's start was no better, as Greene let the last-place White Sox score five runs in less than three innings of work.

In all, Greene has allowed 20 earned runs over his last 11 innings. There are 111 starting pitchers in MLB who haven't allowed 20 runs all season. That includes guys like Yordano Ventura, Jose Quintana and Jerome Williams, who all have ERAs north of 5.00.

Now, after three great starts and three awful ones, Greene has a chance to turn the page and settle somewhere in the middle. The Tigers need Greene to be a solid back-end starter as Justin Verlander rehabs and Anibal Sanchez continues to struggle.

Greene lost his only career start against the Royals last season, allowing two unearned runs in five innings of work. Only three active Royals have hits against Greene heading into Sunday's matchup (all singles).

Kansas City will counter with lifetime Tiger killer Chris Young, who no-hit Detroit for five innings on May 1. Young allowed just three walks and struck out nine batters in the win.

Young is making just his second start of the season, largely thanks to his ridiculous numbers against the Tigers. Detroit's roster is a lifetime eight for 70 against Young with only two RBI and 21 strikeouts.

The otherwise mediocre Young owns a 0.53 WHIP out of the Royals bullpen after spending the first 10 years of his career as a starter.

Miguel Cabrera is 2-16 with five K's against Young in his career. Victor Martinez is 1-10 and Ian Kinsler is 0-9.

If the Tigers overcome this tough pitching matchup and beat the Royals, they'll carry a 1/2 game lead into an off day Tuesday that precedes a stretch of six games against the Twins and Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Royals will fly from Detroit to Texas for the start of a four-game series against the Rangers on Monday.

It looks like these two teams are in for another season-long race. Sunday is the last chance to make a second-half statement.