It was a rewarding Sunday for the Kansas City Royals in more ways than one.
Looking to sustain their momentum for the final week of the first half of the season and ready to show off their newly minted All-Stars, the Royals open a four-game series Monday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The AL Central-leading Royals (46-33) endured a rough stretch early last week with a four-game losing streak – including three in a sweep by upstart Houston – before grinding out a four-game split versus Minnesota, their closest pursuers in the division. Eric Hosmer’s double in the ninth plated Lorenzo Cain with the winning run as Kansas City rebuilt its division lead over the Twins to 4 1/2 games.
"It’s huge. It’s as big a game as you’re going to play in early July," manager Ned Yost said. "Very seldom do you have a chance to make it a two-game swing."
After the game, Yost — who will manage the AL team after reaching the World Series last year — learned he would have at least four of his players on the bench with him in Cincinnati for next week’s All-Star game as catcher Salvador Perez, shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielders Cain and Alex Gordon were voted as starters by the fans. It’s the first time the Royals have had an All-Star starter since Jermaine Dye in 2000, and they likely will match their team record of five set in 1982 since Eric Hosmer could make it as an injury replacement while reliever Wade Davis (0.25 ERA) is an extremely strong candidate.
"It’s just been the support of our fans, really, over the last two years," said Gordon, making his third straight All-Star appearance. "Winning brings attention and that’s what we’ve been doing. I think we play with a lot of energy, a lot of fun. People have noticed it."
Edinson Volquez (8-4, 3.48 ERA) again seeks his fifth consecutive victory after arguably his worst outing of the season. He allowed five runs — three coming on two homers — and eight hits in five-plus innings Wednesday, but the Royals rallied to get him off the hook in their 6-5 loss to the Astros.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.66 ERA in three lifetime starts against the Rays, pitching eight innings of one-run ball last year in an 8-1 victory. Tampa Bay shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who is 13 for 35 in his last 10 games to raise his average to .226, is 3 for 8 with a homer against Volquez.
The Rays (43-41) righted themselves with an 8-1 victory Sunday over the Yankees to avoid a three-game sweep in the Bronx and end a season-worst seven-game losing streak. James Loney and Logan Forsythe each had two-run singles for Tampa Bay, which shook off a pair of walkoff defeats to avoid falling to .500 for the first time since June 1.
"At the plate we got going, finally," said Forsythe, who is only 2 for 24 over his last seven games and went hitless in 12 at-bats versus Kansas City in 2014. "It’s nice to have a quality game."
Alex Colome (3-4, 4.70) is hoping the offense delivers again while potentially fighting to save his spot in the rotation. He’s 0-3 with a 4.63 in his last eight starts and was tagged for five runs and eight hits over seven innings in an 8-1 loss to Cleveland on Wednesday.
"They don’t say nothing to us," Colome told MLB’s official website about possibly being bumped for Jake Odorizzi, who will make a rehab start Monday in Charlotte. "Something you have to ask the manager. The only thing I can do is do my job. Go out and pitch."