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Tigers Series Preview: A battle for first place

Its early, but this is a big series.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Royals cap off their early tour against the Central Division with a big four-game home series against the first place Detroit Tigers. The defending division-winning Tigers lead the Royals by a half-game at 15-7, tied with the Mets for the best record in baseball. They have destroyed the rest of the Central Division, winning 12 of 15 games against the White Sox, Twins, and Indians, but the Royals will look to put a stop to that this weekend.

The Tigers and Royals have both gotten off to amazing hot starts offensively. Some of that has been fueled by a high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) - the two teams are first and second in baseball in that category, suggesting a fall back to reality is in order for both clubs. The fact Miguel Cabrera has been among the top hitters in baseball is no surprise, but the Tigers have gotten great starts from some unexpected places, such as shortstop Jose Iglesias, who missed all of last season with stress fractures. The Cuban-born Iglesias is known as a glove man, but has a .946 OPS to start the year, as well as five stolen bases.

Iglesias also upgrades the Tigers defense considerably, as does the addition of centerfielder Anthony Gose, acquired in a trade from the Blue Jays. The Tigers, who were the third-worst team in baseball in defensive runs saved at -65 last season, are eleventh this year at +5. The Tigers for years were also known as a plodding team on the bases, frequently finishing near the bottom of the league in stolen bases, but have recently become a running team. They were fourth in the league in steals last year, and are second in the league this year with Iglesias, Gose, and Rajai Davis serving as threats on the bases.

Tigers starters have pitched well this year, with the third-best FIP in the league. The Tigers lost ace Max Scherzer this past off-season, but the acquisition last season of David Price has mitigated that loss. Detroit also made a stealthy good trade for Yankees pitcher Shane Greene, who has excelled this year, although the Royals will avoid him this series. Alfredo Simon was a puzzling acquisition from the Reds last winter, but the right-hander has pitched well thus far despite a low strikeout rate. Anibal Sanchez has traditionally dominated the Royals, with a 1.07 ERA in seven starts against Kansas City.

The Tigers bullpen hasn't been the dumpster fire they were last year, with relievers posting a 3.90 ERA overall, eighth in the league. They are the second-worst at striking hitters out, however and their expected FIP is the fourth-worst in baseball. Former Royals closer Joakim Soria is a perfect nine-for-nine in save opportunities for the Tigers, with Joe Nathan on the shelf for the year. Former Royals farmhand Blaine Hardy joins Tom Gorzelanny from the left-side, with Joba Chamberlain serving as the right-handed set up man.

The Tigers had the Royals' number last year, taking 13 of 19 contests and finishing one game ahead of them in the standings for the division title. If the Royals want to get over the hump and take over as the Central Division bullies, beating the Tigers at home in front of some raucous Kauffman Stadium crowds will be key.