When the Kansas City Royals take the field Wednesday night, they could be playing to stay in the playoff race.
The visiting Royals will try to put an anemic offensive effort behind them as they face Seattle Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma for the first time in the finale of a three-game set.
Kansas City (83-74) managed five hits Tuesday in a 4-0 loss, picking an inopportune time for its ninth shutout defeat of the year.
The Royals are four games behind Cleveland for the AL’s second wild card with five to play. If the Indians win at home against the White Sox earlier Wednesday, Kansas City will be eliminated with another loss in Seattle.
“We just go till they say we can’t win it,” manager Ned Yost said. “We go as hard as we can. Keep playing our best guys and staying after it.”
Getting untracked figures to be difficult against Iwakuma (13-6, 2.76 ERA), who enters with 15 consecutive scoreless innings.
The right-hander won for the first time in five starts last Wednesday, pitching eight innings in an 8-0 victory at Detroit. He’s 3-0 with a 1.89 ERA over his last seven outings.
“I’m just trying to focus, pitch my game and stay with my plan,” he said through an interpreter.
Iwakuma may be more vulnerable at home, where he is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA in his last four starts.
The only Kansas City player who has faced Iwakuma and is currently seeing regular playing time is Justin Maxwell, who is 1 for 3 against him.
Iwakuma will try to follow up an outstanding effort from rookie James Paxton on Tuesday. Paxton pitched seven innings and struck out 10 – one shy of his total from his first three big-league starts.
Kendrys Morales singled in a run in the first inning and Justin Smoak added a three-run homer in the fifth to provide more than enough offense for Seattle (69-89), which ended a five-game home slide. Smoak hit his second homer batting right-handed compared to 17 from the other side.
“To be able to barrel one up, knowing the work I’ve put in the last couple weeks, it is starting to show,” Smoak said.
Eric Hosmer singled twice for his AL-best 59th multihit effort while Royals sluggers Billy Butler and Salvador Perez combined for seven hitless at-bats.
Royals starter Ervin Santana (9-9, 3.16) has been nearly as good as Iwakuma in his last two outings, yielding one run over 14 innings against the power-packed lineups of Detroit and Texas.
The right-hander is pitching better than he did to open the month when he gave up four runs in a season-low 3 1/3 innings and did not get a decision in a 6-4 home loss to Seattle on Sept. 4.
Smoak is 7 for 19 versus Santana, who has held other Mariners in check. Dustin Ackley is 5 for 22 against him, Michael Saunders is 5 for 21 and Kyle Seager 4 for 20.
Santana owns more wins at Safeco Field than he does at any visiting ballpark, going 7-4 with a 4.00 ERA in 14 outings.
Kansas City is one victory shy of matching its highest total since finishing 84-78 in 1993.