While the Royals saw their many wins in recent weeks had a minimal effect on the American League Central standings, they yearned for the chance to play the front-running Tigers, who have matched Kansas City's roll step for step.
The Royals swung and missed against the 2012 division champions on Thursday night, as the Tigers rolled to a 4-1 win in the opener of a five-game series at Comerica Park.
Detroit looks to continue its winning ways in Friday's day-night doubleheader. The first game will pit Tigers ace Justin Verlander against southpaw Danny Duffy. In the nightcap, Royals ace James Shields will oppose lefty Jose Alvarez.
Detroit (71-49) owns an 8 1/2-game advantage over the third-place Royals (62-57) in the AL Central standings. Kansas City is 19-8 since the All-Star break, while the Tigers are playing at a 19-7 clip.
Though Kansas City has lost ground in the division race, the Royals have vaulted themselves over .500 to become relevant in the AL playoff picture.
"It's nice to be a part of it, even if it's just a little part of it," Duffy said. "I'll go out there and do my job tomorrow and hopefully it all goes well."
With four runs on Thursday, the Tigers' total is 613 on the season, tied with Boston for the Major League lead. And the Royals, just like everyone else, know that success begins with Miguel Cabrera, last season's AL Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown winner.
"He's not one of the best," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "In my estimation, he's absolutely the best right-handed hitter in the game. With Prince Fielder coming up, this lineup is deadly from one through six. You can't pitch around any of these guys so you just have to pitch very carefully.
"You try not to throw them the same pitch twice in the same location twice. You have to move the ball around, hope that it's a good pitch and hope for a good outcome."
Though Royals pitchers kept Cabrera in the yard on Thursday, the same didn't hold true for Fielder, who hit a two-run shot off Jeremy Guthrie for his 18th home run. That total is far off the pace of Cabrera, who has 38 home runs to go with a .359 batting average and 115 RBIs.
When it comes to Cabrera, Tigers skipper Jim Leyland agrees with Yost.
"I think you just have to realize, right now he's the best hitter in baseball," Leyland said. "He hits like a little guy and gets results like a big guy. That's another reason he doesn't strike out very much. You don't see him out of control very often."
Royals: Duffy seeking first win vs. Detroit
Duffy (0-0, 4.91 ERA) has made just one big league start this season -- a no-decision on Aug. 7 against Minnesota. Over 3 2/3 innings, he gave up six hits and two runs, while racking up seven strikeouts against two walks.
In four career games against the Tigers, Duffy is 0-3 with a 5.16 ERA across 22 2/3 innings.
• After struggling through a seven-run outing on Aug. 6, Shields (7-8, 3.33 ERA) then went out and held the Red Sox to three runs (two earned) in seven innings. He allowed seven hits, with three walks, five strikeouts and one hit batter. Shields is 5-2 with a 3.56 ERA in 12 career outings against Detroit.
• Emilio Bonifacio played third base and hit sixth in Kansas City's lineup on Thursday, his first game with the Royals since being acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays. He went 1-for-4 with a strikeout and a stolen base. Bonifacio has 13 steals on the season.
Tigers: Verlander dominant against Royals
Verlander (12-8, 3.57 ERA) snapped a streak of three straight quality starts in his last appearance, during which he allowed four runs in seven innings at Yankee Stadium. He finished with nine strikeouts and seven hits (two home runs), and one walk. Over 26 games, Verlander is 15-3 with a 2.74 ERA in his career against Kansas City.
• Alvarez (1-2, 5.03 ERA) will serve as the Tigers' 26th man during the doubleheader. The Tigers are 2-2 in his outings, the first of which occurred on June 9 against Cleveland. Alvarez has never faced the Royals.
• Batting from the leadoff spot on Thursday, left fielder Andy Dirks went 4-for-4 with two runs scored and two doubles.
• The Royals are 5-4 in the season series against the Tigers.
• Since 2009, Detroit is 47-34 overall against Kansas City.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.