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Tigers Series Preview: Not the divisional race we were expecting

We thought this might be a big series.

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Duane Burleson/Getty Images

When the Royals began the season, they probably circled this series on their calendar. If they were to compete for the division, the road to a title went through the Tigers. After the first two weeks of the season when the Royals and Tigers both got off to hot starts with Detroit winning 11 of its first 13 games, it seemed the two teams were destined for a season-long rivalry.

But that wouldn't be in the cards. Detroit slumped back to .500 over May and June and their season was derailed when they lost slugger Miguel Cabrera for six weeks with a calf strain. After a dreadful July, General Manager Dave Dombrowski was ready to throw in the towel, which may have cost him his job. The Tigers have played lousy ball since then, which will probably cost manager Brad Ausmus his job as well. Since July 1, Detroit has gone 21-33, the worst record in the league over that time, and have sunk to the bottom of the division.

Miguel Cabrera is back and he looks better than ever. He's putting up MVP numbers and now that he qualifies for the batting title, he has a chance to claim his fourth batting crown. Cabrera hasn't missed a beat since returning, hitting .393/.479/.639 in 16 games since coming off the disabled list. J.D. Martinez is tied for fourth in the league in home runs and is ninth in WAR. The Royals have kept him in check this season however, allowing him to hit just .154/.298/.205 with no home runs in 12 games. The Tigers lead the league in runs scored, and are second in on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

The Tigers are  a much improved team defensively, going from "terrible" last year, to "passable" this year. Nick Castellanos at third is still a big liability and Miguel Cabrera has his moments at first. Ian Kinsler is very solid at second while Jose Iglesias has turned in some Web Gems this year, even though the metrics aren't as high on him. The Tigers can run a bit, with the fifth-most stolen bases although with a success rate of just 62.8%.

The Tigers dealt ace David Price and have lost Shane Greene to injury, leaving them with young, unproven rookies and scrap heap veterans like Randy Wolf. Wolf made his pro debut in 1997, when his opponent Yordano Ventura was six years old. The crafty lefty has been adequate through two starts, but has trouble hitting 90 on the radar gun. Lefty Matt Boyd is younger, but also suffers from a lack of velocity. His changeup did give the Royals fits back on August 5, and he has given up just four runs in 12.1 innings against Kansas City this year. Justin Verlander may be back to his old self. He nearly tossed a no-hitter his last time out and has given up just one earned run over his last four outings, for an ERA of 0.31 with opponents hitting .126/.192/.168 over that time.

The Tigers bullpen has been a weak spot all season, with the worst ERA in the league. Closer Joakim Soria was dealt to Pittsburgh, leaving closing duties up in the air. Right-hander Alex Wilson has a 2.18 ERA, but has trouble missing bats. Bruce Rondon can miss bats with a 12.9 strikeout-per-nine innings ratio, but he also has a 6.85 ERA. Former Royals farmhand Blaine Hardy could see some save opportunities as he has impressed with a 2.59 ERA and over eight strikeouts-per-nine innings, with lefties hitting just .202/.270/.253 against him. Rookie lefty Guido Knudson, the closer for their AAA club, was just called up and could see some late action as well.

The Tigers have had a frustrating season but still have a potent lineup that can do some damage. Justin Verlander could be the pitcher of old, and the Royals have struggled against pitchers they haven't seen much this year. The Royals have Alex Gordon back, but they'll still need to bring their A game to finish the season out strong. This isn't the big series we expected, but the Royals should still play like it is.