The changing of the guard could be completed this week.
The Kansas City Royals’ 5-1 victory over Detroit on Tuesday served as a reminder that there’s a new sheriff in town in the American League’s Central Division.
The Royals are now 63-42 while the four-time defending division champions are four games under .500 and 12 1/2 games back. They in no way resemble the team that many — including me — thought would be in the World Series this year.
Perhaps the signal that Detroit is truly done is that Tuesday it relieved (i.e., fired) General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who had been with the team for 14 years and generally is regarded as one of the best in baseball at what he does.
But his recent fire sale of ace pitcher David Price to Toronto and slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets sealed his fate as it was perceived as a give-up move.
The poster child for the Tigers’ demise, pitcher Justin Verlander, was on display Tuesday. Verlander at one time was 14-2 against the Royals and it was the most virtual lock in baseball. Kansas City cowered in his presence and the games were over before they ever started because the Royals knew in their minds they were overmatched.
Numerous injuries, however, have reduced Verlander to just another pitcher for the Royals to feast on. Salvador Perez, whose struggles at the plate the last two months have been masked by his defense and the team’s record, broke out of his funk by pounding three hits, including a homer as he’s worn Verlander like a glove in his career.
There’s no Miguel Cabrera to torture the Royals as he’s on the DL with a strained calf. It’s almost painful to watch the fall from grace for switch-hitter extraordinaire Victor Martinez, who can barely hobble down the line because his knees are so bad. Prince Fielder was traded a few years back as was Austin Jackson. That leaves a lineup that hardly strikes fear in Royals pitchers, who used to see their ERAs inflated after every appearance against Detroit.
Kansas City is now 10 games up on second-place Minnesota in the loss column and the Twins are barely over .500 after back-to-back losses to suddenly the most feared team in baseball, the Toronto Bluejays. The Royals are now down to 57 games left to play, 12 against the Tigers. Detroit would practically have to win every remaining game with KC to have a chance.
While the Twins are sliding as well, Chicago showed signs of getting hot 10 days ago, but has again regressed. Cleveland, which six weeks ago I thought could be the most dangerous team in the division, simply can’t hit and now is 15 games back.
It will take a meltdown of epic proportions for the Royals not to win the division. Even with their bullpen having sprung a few leaks at Toronto and some of the hitters cooling off, they are finding ways to win. I had somebody tell me a couple of weeks ago they’re going to win this division by double digits and after telling them that would happen when pigs fly, I’m starting to believe it, especially since Detroit appears to have tossed in the towel.