After the Detroit Tigers have spent the last three seasons perched atop what has generally been a generally weak American League Central, the Tigers may be vulnerable. The Kansas City Royals improved this offseason, with an eye towards ending their playoff drought. The Cleveland Indians were a playoff team last season, and are also on the Tigers’ heels.
While these are not the same Detroit Tigers, this will still be a nice early season test for the Royals. Doug Fister and Prince Fielder may have been traded, but the Tigers still have the two time reigning MVP in Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander is still one of the best pitchers in baseball, and the Royals will get to face the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Max Scherzer and the 2013 ERA leader in Anibal Sanchez in their three game series.
The start of the season may be the perfect time for the Royals to face the Tigers as well. With Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon out for the season, the Tigers are still attempting to figure out their bullpen. Although the addition of Joe Nathan solidifies what was a shaky closer situation, there are still questions with the rest of the bullpen. Iglesias was, bar far, the Tigers best defensive player. With the Royals seemingly designed to put pressure on opposing defenses and built to run and get on base, missing Iglesias, at least during the early part of the season, could have a major impact on the Tigers defensively.
While the Royals get the joy of facing off against three of the top starters in the American League, they get to counter with their top three starters as well. James Shields gets to face off against Verlander, which will likely result in the type of low scoring game that the Royals were accustomed to last year. Jason Vargas and wunderkind Yordano Ventura get the start int he final two games, both of which are intriguing on their own. Vargas will make his Royals debut in a ballpark which happens to be slightly favorable to the long ball. Ventura, meanwhile, is the great unknown. As impressive as he has looked during Spring Training and in his three outings last year, Ventura will still have an excellent first test in facing Sanchez.
The first month of the season should be fairly easy for the Royals, as they get to face the Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox. Getting off to a quick start, especially in the wake of the momentum they are carrying in from last season. Taking the opening series from the Tigers, while a tall challenge, would be a great first step to announcing the Royals presence in the division.