Welp if this five-game weekend at Comerica Park marked a chance for the Royals to gauge their viability as a postseason contender, they now have an answer.
Still some work to do.
First-place Detroit put its considerable strengths on display Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 victory after the clubs split the first four games. Highlights included:
Reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera, after hitting a walk-off homer Saturday, crushed a two-run homer in the first inning and added an RBI single in the third. The Royals finally ordered an intentional walk in the fifth.
Right-hander Max Scherzer improved to 18-1 by overmatching the Royals for six innings before seeming to ease off the pedal in a two-run seventh. He worked through the eighth before Joaquin Benoit closed out the victory.
Afterward, the Royals pointed more to a missed opportunity Saturday, when they were four for 20 with runners in scoring position, as the key to the weekend.
“We had the game (Saturday) night,” designated hitter Billy Butler insisted. “I had plenty of chances. The series could have gone the other way based on that one game.
“They beat us today. They went out and played their game and beat us today. You can take that better than one like (Saturday) night.”
The Tigers built a 6-0 lead through six innings Sunday against veteran lefty Bruce Chen, who had yielded just four runs over 38 2/3 innings in six previous starts since replacing Luis Mendoza in the rotation.
“A couple of pitches (to Cabrera),” Chen said. “He got a home run, and he got a base-hit. He’s in our division. We know him. When he’s on, I don’t think you can throw anything around (the plate). He’ll hit it.”
Cabrera fueled the early burst, but Detroit’s 12-hit attack included at least one from all nine starters. The Tigers also capitalized on David Lough’s defensive difficulties in right field.
Lough failed to catch two tough fly balls near the wall — both scored doubles — and he committed an error on a throw to the plate that got past catcher Salvy Perez.
The Royals had just two hits before Butler opened the seventh inning with a single. He moved to third on Alex Gordon’s double and scored on Perez’s grounder to second. Emilio Bonifacio followed with an RBI double.
That was it against Scherzer, who gave up five hits while throwing 110 pitches in eight innings. Butler started the ninth with a homer before Benoit finished up.
“For me,” Scherzer said, “(the key) was the command of my fastball...When I’m able to give us a chance to win, Miggy hits a bomb and the rest of the lineup does their job, that just makes us a great team.”
The loss dropped the Royals to 64-59 and left them 8 1/2 games behind Detroit in the American League Central Division. They also fell six games behind Oakland for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
Early on, it was all Detroit. Cabrera opened the scoring with a two-run bomb in the first inning after Austin Jackson led off with a single.
“It was a cut fastball (to Cabrera),” Chen said. “It was a little up, but it was away. He shouldn’t be pulling it, but he pulled it.”
That homer ended a string of 18⅔ scoreless innings by Chen that spanned three starts. There would be more. The Tigers added a two-out run in the third by capitalizing on some suspect outfield defense.
First, Lough turned and twisted while chasing Torii Hunter’s high drive before missing on a lunging dive at the ball on the warning track. The ball hopped into the seats for a rulebook double.
“I didn’t think Hunter hit that very well,” Lough said. “The wind was blowing out at the time, and it just kind of kept going. By the time I knew I was close to the wall, I couldn’t reverse turn. I just couldn’t get to it.”
Cabrera followed with a line single to left.
“If he lets it go,” Chen said, “I think it’s 6 or 8 inches in. And he was still able to hit it. It wasn’t in the middle of the plate. I made a good pitch, and he made it look like I left it over the middle of plate. It wasn’t.”
Detroit made it 4-0 in the fifth after Lough had more trouble in deep right field. After Jose Iglesias lined a one-out double to left-center, Jackson sent a fly to deep right.
Lough retreated but couldn’t make the catch before slamming into the wall. Iglesias held up for a possible catch and only made it to third as Jackson cruised into second.
“I was playing in,” Lough said. “You saw me catch his first one (in the third inning). Not much power that way, but he actually got ahold of that one. It kept going.”
Hunter’s fly ball to right — no trouble, this time, for Lough — resulted in a sacrifice fly and a 4-0 lead. The Royals then opted to walk Cabrera before Chen, 5-1, ended the inning by retiring Prince Fielder on a grounder to first.
Gordon slammed into the left-field wall in running down Victor Martinez’s drive to open the Tigers’ sixth. Gordon made the catch, face-planted and fell backward onto the ground...and held the ball.
But Andy Dirks followed with a single and scored when Brayan Pena drove an RBI double over Dyson’s head in center for a 5-0 lead. That finished Chen but not the Tigers.
Ramon Santiago greeted reliever Louis Coleman with an RBI single and yielded a single to Iglesias before ending the inning when Jackson grounded into a double play.
Six runs for Scherzer? Plenty.
“We wanted to take at least three out of five,” Chen said, “but it didn’t happen. We can’t put our heads down. It’s only going to get tougher from now on. It’s a good experience, but we have to move on.”