MLB

Royals-Tigers Preview

With the largest division lead in the majors, the Kansas City Royals aren't terribly alarmed by a rough stretch.

The AL Central leaders, though, would like to salvage a split of this 10-game road trip Thursday against the Detroit Tigers.

Kansas City (63-43) owns the best league's best record and is atop the Central by 9 1/2 games on Minnesota. That lofty standing makes it easy for the Royals to brush off a 2-5 stretch that matches their loss total over the previous 21 games.

They're struggling in nearly every facet, compiling a 5.52 ERA while hitting .226 in those seven games. The staff had a 2.13 ERA while Kansas City won six of the previous eight, and the team's .270 season average ranks fourth in the majors.

A lack of offense was the problem in Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Detroit (52-55), as the Royals went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and failed to back Johnny Cueto's strong start.

One of the biggest culprits lately is Alcides Escobar, who is hitting .152 in his last eight games. Lorenzo Cain is 0 for 9 in this series after batting .342 with 20 runs in the previous 20 games.

Kansas City may have better luck at the plate with the Tigers turning to Anibal Sanchez (10-9, 4.77 ERA), who has allowed a career-high 24 homers to rank among the most in the majors - a source of frustration for the right-hander.

"It's like every hit," Sanchez told MLB's official website. "If I allow two hits in a game, it's two home runs. If I allow three hits in a game, it's three homers. If I allow one hit, it's one homer. It's crazy."

He served up two homers among nine hits Saturday, allowing six runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss at Baltimore.

"It's like a roller coaster right now. I don't know," Sanchez lamented.

Sanchez, though, has only allowed five homers in his last six home starts, going 5-0 with a 2.89 ERA. He's also 6-3 with a 1.98 ERA in nine career starts against Kansas City, which ranks last in the AL with 84 homers.

The only homer he's given up in two starts against the Royals this season was a leadoff blast by Escobar in a 6-2 home defeat May 9. Sanchez surrendered six runs in six innings.

Escobar is 4 for 10 in the last two years against Sanchez, while Cain is 4 for 20 lifetime in this matchup.

The Royals are turning to Yordano Ventura (6-7, 4.98), who has won both of his starts after his demotion to Triple-A Omaha was cut short by Jason Vargas needing Tommy John surgery.

The right-hander allowed one run in seven innings of a 5-1 win over Houston on July 26. He followed that six days later by retiring the first 11 batters he faced before being tagged for five runs and two homers in seven innings of a 7-6 win at Toronto.

Ventura is 2-0 with a 4.30 ERA in three games - two starts - against the Tigers. He gave up four runs and eight hits in six innings of a 6-5 loss at Detroit on May 8.

Ian Kinsler figures to be a tough out for Ventura. The Tigers second baseman is batting .542 in his last six games and is 4 for 6 against Ventura.

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