Royals top Tigers, playing without suspended Sheffield and hurting Cabrera

DETROIT -- Six months ago, the Detroit Tigers were expected to contend for their second World Series berth in three years.

Instead, with less than a week to go in the regular season, they find themselves fighting the Kansas City Royals for last place in the AL Central.

Monday, the Royals beat Detroit 6-2 to move within one game of the Tigers, who have lost 10 of 11.

"We've still got some work to do, but it would be nice to finish ahead of them," said Royals manager Trey Hillman.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland said that, while he's not worried about finishing fifth, he's certainly not happy about the way the season has unraveled.

"I don't really think in terms of fourth place or last place -- I think in terms of winning games, and that's what we aren't doing right now," he said. "It is disappointing that a couple weeks ago, we were talking about finishing ahead of Cleveland and now we're having to fight to finish ahead of Kansas City."

Leyland emphasized that he expects his team to finish strong, despite a terrible run at the end of a horrible season.

"This has been a disappointing year, but we are still professionals," he said. "We have a responsibility to try to win every one of these last six games."

The top of Kansas City's batting order did much of the damage, as leadoff hitter David DeJesus went 4-for-4 with a walk and second-place hitter Mike Aviles drove in two runs.

"It's always good to get another win," said Aviles, a rookie. "We're hoping that a strong finish can be a stepping stone into next season."

Gil Meche (13-11) won for the third time in four starts, allowing two runs, four hits and two walks in six innings.

"I felt like I had decent command, and I was able to keep them off-balance for most of the night," he said. "It was fun for five innings, then they got me a little in the sixth, but the pen did a great job to get me the win."

Zach Miner (8-5) took the loss, giving up four runs in six-plus innings.

Miner had won his last three starts against the Royals, allowing one earned run in 19 innings, but DeJesus tripled on his first pitch of the game, and Aviles singled two pitches later.

"They were a lot more aggressive against me tonight than they have been in my other starts against them," he said. "That first-pitch triple pretty much showed me what they were planning to do."

Jose Guillen followed with another single to put runners on the corners, but Miguel Cabrera fielded Ryan Shealy's hard-hit grounder to first base and threw out Aviles at the plate.

Detroit had a good chance to tie the game in the third when Brandon Inge singled and took third on Meche's wild pickoff attempt, but Dusty Ryan and Curtis Granderson both grounded out.

Kansas City made it 3-0 in the fifth when Alberto Callaspo and DeJesus started the inning with singles and Aviles followed with his second RBI single of the game. After a hit batter loaded the bases, a run scored when Shealy grounded into a double play.

The Tigers came back with two runs in the sixth. They loaded the bases with two singles and a walk and Magglio Ordonez hit a sacrifice fly. Jeff Larish made it 3-2 with a single, but Meche got out of the inning.

Kansas City got a run off four Tigers pitchers in the seventh when Gary Glover walked Shealy with the bases loaded.

Bobby Seay's wild pitch allowed Alex Gordon to score in the eighth, and DeJesus gave the Royals a 6-2 lead with an RBI single.

"Eventually, we've got to be able to get some big outs out of our bullpen," Leyland said. "I don't understand what is happening there. Frankly, it is mind-boggling to me."

Game notes
3B Inge made a running catch of Mark Teahen's soft liner and doubled Guillen off second in the seventh. ... The Tigers were without suspended slugger Gary Sheffield, then lost Cabrera in the third inning because of a tight back. Sheffield was suspended four games earlier in the day for brawling with Cleveland pitcher Fausto Carmona last week. Leyland said that Cabrera could be available for Tuesday's game against the Royals, but only as a DH.