A week ago, the Kansas City Royals looked like the worst team in the major leagues.
They had lost seven straight to begin September, dropping their winning percentage to .333.
While the Royals are still in last place in the American League Central, they suddenly look like a formidable foe.
Kansas City carries a six-game winning streak into a five-game road trip that begins at Detroit on Tuesday. The Royals have defeated opponents by a combined score of 44-14 during the unexpected turnaround.
“We want to finish strong,” Royals first baseman Hunter Dozier told MLB.com. “We had a meeting a couple days ago, and [outfielder Alex Gordon] said to just finish strong and have some momentum for next year. We’re just focused on that.”
In their latest victory, the Royals thumped Pittsburgh 11-0 as Brad Keller tossed a complete-game shutout.
Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi has been the offensive catalyst. Last week, Mondesi blasted four homers, scored seven runs and swiped six bases. Third baseman Maikel Franco (.433, 11 RBIs) and second baseman Whit Merrifield (.414, seven runs, seven RBIs) have also been swinging hot bats over the past seven games.
The Royals (20-28) can pass the slumping Tigers (20-26) in the standings during the two-game series. Left-handers Danny Duffy for the Royals and Matthew Boyd for the Tigers will start the series opener.
Duffy (3-3, 4.24 ERA) tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings against Cleveland on Wednesday despite issuing four walks.
“For the most part, when I had to make a pitch, it was there,” he said. “[The fastball] got me out of a couple of jams.”
He’s faced the Tigers more than any other team in his career. In 28 career appearances, including 25 starts, Duffy is 8-10 with a 4.68 ERA.
Following his two best outings of the season, Boyd (1-6, 7.63 ERA) was battered for seven runs on eight hits in three-plus innings against Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Boyd has started 20 times against the Royals, posting a 5-9 record and 6.49 ERA. Merrifield and Dozier have given him fits. In 42 official at-bats, Merrifield is hitting .524 with nine extra-base hits against Boyd. Dozier has 10 hits, including five extra-base hits, in 17 official at-bats.
The Tigers were in the hunt for a playoff spot but faded last week, losing five of their last six games. They were swept by the Chicago White Sox in a three-game weekend series, getting outscored 23-5.
Detroit has scored a total of seven runs in those five losses. The Tigers were held to two runs on six hits on Sunday.
“You’re not going to win many games like that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’re not stacking hits together. We seem to get behind early and that’s not a good thing for your baseball team and you have to end up trying to fight back. We have a lot of young hitters in the lineup right now. Everybody in our infield is young. We have a lot of kids out there and it’s not easy, and they’re trying to learn on the go.”
The Royals and Tigers split a four-game series in late July. They’ll also finish out the season later this month with a four-game series in Kansas City.