After losing a series to the team they're chasing in the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals can't afford to drop another to a last-place club.
With a chance to end the weekend alone atop the division, the Royals aim to salvage a split of this four-game set with the Boston Red Sox on Sunday.Four home games against last-place Boston gave Kansas City a golden opportunity to strengthen its grip on first place in the Central after it dropped two of three at Detroit to cut its lead to one game. However, the Royals (81-66) weren't sharp in losing the first two contests, scoring five runs and committing four errors.They bounced back with a 7-1 victory Saturday behind Jeremy Guthrie's eight innings of three-hit ball and their best offensive showing in nearly a month. Kansas City reaped the benefits of a revised lineup to reach seven runs for the first time since Aug. 19, a 22-game span.With his team averaging 2.5 runs and batting .208 over an eight-game stretch, manager Ned Yost moved Alcides Escobar, Nori Aoki and Lorenzo Cain into the top three spots in the order, dropped Eric Hosmer and Omar Infante to sixth and seventh and inserted Jarrod Dyson into the nine-hole.Infante responded with three singles and two RBIs while the top four spots in the lineup were a combined 7 for 15 with six runs.With their first win in six tries this season against the Red Sox (65-84), the Royals remained one-half game behind the Tigers, who rallied for a 5-4 win over Cleveland."I think we've approached all the games the same," Guthrie said. "That's the easiest way to do it. I think if you try to approach every game differently -- like yesterday was less important, and today's and tomorrow's are subtly important, but Monday's game is way more important. I think it is difficult to prepare like that."Guthrie's performance lowered Kansas City's ERA from its starters to 1.76 in the last seven home games, a trend Jason Vargas (11-8, 3.25 ERA) hopes to continue Sunday.The left-hander wasn't sharp in a 4-2 loss at Detroit on Tuesday, giving up four runs and six hits with three walks over 5 1/3 innings. It was the third loss in four starts for Vargas, who has posted a 2.60 ERA over his past seven outings but is only 3-3 in those games while his teammates have supported him with 14 total runs.This will be Vargas' first look at the Red Sox in over two years, last facing them Sept. 3, 2012, with Seattle.The Red Sox lost for the fifth time in seven games despite getting David Ortiz (toe) and Mike Napoli back (finger) in the lineup after both sat out Friday. Ortiz had two of Boston's four hits.Napoli is mired in a 7-for-42 slump but facing Vargas could help him find his stroke. He's 12 for 32 with four homers and two doubles in their matchups.Joe Kelly (1-2, 3.95) seeks a fourth straight quality start for Boston. The right-hander was saddled with a 4-0 loss to Baltimore on Monday after allowing three earned runs over 6 1/3 innings.While he's posted a 3.00 ERA in his last four starts, control continues to be an issue for Kelly, who has walked 25 over 41 innings in seven outings since joining the Red Sox.Both of Kelly's starts against the Royals came in 2012 with St. Louis. He went 1-0 with a 4.35 ERA in those games.Aoki is 7 for 13 with three doubles against Kelly and Mike Moustakas is 3 for 4 with a homer.
Eric Hosmer (KC): HR (8); 2 HR in last 3 games - had 2 HR in previous 46 games combined.
Alcides Escobar (.400) and Alex Gordon (.368) are among the top 25 hitters in batting average in at-bats to end in a fastball in the lower third of the zone or bellow. Joe Kelly has thrown 246 fastballs inthat zone since the All-Star Break, the twelfth-highest total among qualifying pitchers.