- Associated Press - Sunday, July 13, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Despite being only two games above .500 and facing a 6.5-game deficit against first-place Detroit, the Kansas City Royals believe they have their rivals right where they want them.

Judging by recent history, maybe they do.

A five-run seventh inning keyed by Omar Infante’s two-run single and an RBI double from Eric Hosmer enabled the Royals to avoid a demoralizing four-game sweep against the Tigers on Sunday.

It also brought to mind the league-best 33-20 mark they logged last season after stumbling into the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak.

“We’re eight games better than we were at this time last year,” manager Ned Yost said. “And we’re a second-half team. We’ve always been a second-half team.”

Exactly why they seem to play better after the break, no one seems to know.

“I’m not sure,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “The season’s long, It wears on guys as they get older. We’re young. And sometimes I think as guys get older … I don’t know.”

But he does know last year’s second-half surge makes this year’s challenge seem less daunting.

“We’re just better the second half. It’s our track record and we’re starting to count on it.”

Four of the seventh-inning runs were charged to Justin Verlander (8-8), who started the inning with a two-hit shutout but loaded the bases on three straight singles.

“Things were going well for us and we ran into the seventh,” said Verlander, who lost for just the fifth time in 15 decisions in Kauffman Stadium. “A couple of balls fell in the right spots and I’m out of the ballgame. They were able to find some spots.”

Since June 18 when K.C. beat the Tigers for their 10th straight win and went a season-best seven games over .500, the Royals have gone 9-14 while the Tigers went 17-6.

Verlander gave up six hits in 6 1/3 innings, struck out three and walked one.

Yordano Ventura (7-7) pitched 1 2/3 innings in his first career relief appearance and got the win.

He allowed one hit and struck out three for the Royals, who beat the Tigers for only the first time in seven tries this year at home.

Story Continues →