It wasn’t long ago the Kansas City Royals were a season-best eight games over .500 and making their case as a surprising contender for a postseason berth.
While their current slump has dropped them within one loss of the break-even mark, the Washington Nationals are on the verge of moving above that point for the first time in more than a month.
Washington seeks a fifth consecutive victory while dealing the fading Royals a seventh straight defeat as the team’s continue their three-game series Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Kansas City (64-63) reached its highest point on Aug. 12, when Wade Davis gave up two runs in six innings of a 6-2 win over Miami. Since that victory, though, it has dropped nine of 11 to fall seven games back of Oakland for the AL’s second wild-card spot.
The Royals blew a six-run lead and fell 11-10 in Friday’s series opener, dropping them 10 1/2 games behind Detroit in the Central. They were 6 1/2 back before their slump.
“It’s a game of breaks, and we’re getting the bad breaks,” Billy Butler said. “The way things are going right now, the breaks are coming and we’re falling on the wrong side.”
Washington (64-64), meanwhile, is doing its best to improve its similarly faint playoff chances. The Nationals rallied Friday with a seven-run fourth and have totaled 31 runs during their winning streak.
Bryce Harper had three RBIs, Ian Desmond and Tyler Moore had three hits, and Jayson Werth hit a two-run homer for the Nationals, who haven’t been above .500 since they were 48-47 on July 14.
“We never give up. We never shut it down,” manager Davey Johnson said. “We go hard.”
Washington, which trails Cincinnati by 8 1/2 games for the NL’s second wild card, also was busy before Friday’s contest, sending catcher Kurt Suzuki to Oakland and recently acquired outfielder David DeJesus to Tampa Bay.
The deals didn’t bring back any immediate help for the Nationals, who will look to stay hot while facing Davis (6-9, 5.43 ERA).
Davis originally was scheduled to start Friday, but manager Ned Yost flipped him and Bruce Chen. Given his last performance, Davis likely could have used the extra day off.
He allowed four runs and eight hits in just 3 2/3 innings last Saturday before the Royals fell 6-5 at Detroit. The right-hander had gone 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA over his previous three outings.
The Nationals will counter with Jordan Zimmermann, who also is coming off a poor outing.
Zimmermann (14-7, 3.37) has struggled for a longer stretch, going 3-4 with a 5.96 ERA over his last nine starts. He gave up a career worst-tying eight runs while tying a season high of three walks in five innings of Monday’s 11-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
“He’s a tremendous pitcher, he’s going to be fine,” Johnson said. “This was not good, obviously. But I think he came through it all right.”
The right-hander, who is 1-3 with a 7.31 ERA over his last five road starts, has never faced the Royals, who got three hits each from Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer in Friday’s loss.
Hosmer hit a two-run shot and Justin Maxwell added a solo homer in the first inning. Maxwell also had a two-run single in a three-run ninth, but the rally fell short.