Playoffs unlikely, Royals aim for winning mark

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mathematically, the Kansas City Royals remain alive in the American League wild-card standings.

Practically, the odds are next to impossible the Royals will make it back to postseason for the third consecutive year and get to defend their World Series championship. One could get better odds that the Cleveland Browns will win the Super Bowl this season.

The Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 in 11 innings Tuesday to remain on life support. With five games left, they are five games behind the Baltimore Orioles, who lost Tuesday at Toronto, for the second wild-card spot. One Orioles victory or one Royals loss would eliminate Kansas City.

However, if the Royals can win two of their remaining five games, they would finish above .500 for the fourth consecutive year. That is a more reasonable and achievable goal.

“It's very, very important,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I mean, it's important to us. Um, if it wasn't important, we'd just pack our bags and go home right now.

“So, we've got a group of guys in there that play hard. They play hard until the last out's made and they play hard every single day. And they play to win. Everything that's happened, with all the injuries and everything that's happened this year, for us to have a winning record's going to be good for us.”

The Twins and Royals will meet again Wednesday night in the middle game of this three-game series. The Twins have lost 14 of 17 to the Royals this year, including all eight games at Kauffman Stadium. The Twins have never gone winless in Kansas City during a season since the Royals' franchise was birthed in 1969.

Left-hander Jason Vargas will start Wednesday for the Royals. This will be the third start of the year for Vargas, who had Tommy John surgery in August 2015 and spent most of this year rehabilitating. He made six minor league rehab starts, going 0-2 with a 5.85 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 20 innings, before making his first big league appearance.

In his past start, Vargas gave up a solo home run to Jason Kipnis and a run-producing double to Carlos Santana in the first inning at Cleveland, but he retired the final 10 batters he faced. He left after 70 pitches and four innings with a no-decision. He will be on a pitch count Wednesday, probably around 85.

Vargas is 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 16 career outings against the Twins. He is 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA in seven starts with the Royals against the Twins.

The Twins will counter with veteran right-hander Ervin Santana, who pitched for the Royals in 2013.

Santana will be making his fifth start of the season against Kansas City and the 21st of his career. He is 5-9 with a 4.65 ERA against the Royals, allowing 66 earned runs in 127 2/3 innings while striking out 104 and walking 45.

Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer is 7-for-21 with two home runs and nine RBI against Santana. Alex Gordon is just 8-for-38 (.211) off Santana, but two of the hits were home runs. Kendrys Morales is 4-for-17 with one home run against Santana.

While rookie right-hander Jose Berrios failed to make it through five innings Tuesday against the Royals, Twins manager Paul Molitor hinted he would start the season finale Sunday at the Chicago White Sox. He said he would discuss it with the 22-year-old Berrios and see how he is feeling after the long season.

Berrios wants the ball.

“I felt confident,” he said of his start against the Royals. “I think the work that I put into the bullpens getting to the start have been put into the start and have helped a lot.

“I feel 100 percent. I want to go out there and pitch. I feel like that's what every athlete wants is to win a game. That's what they pride themselves on. So, yeah, if that's what they want, that's what I'll do.”