Royals visit Jays trying to keep playoff hopes alive
TORONTO — Only two years ago, the Kansas City Royals defeated the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series on their way to winning the World Series.
This year, the Royals (73-76) are 4 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot held by the Minnesota Twins with 13 games to play.
The Blue Jays (70-80) are even farther out at eight games removed from the second wild card with 12 to play.
After a day off in the schedule Monday, the teams open a three-game series Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays will start right-hander Marcus Stroman (11-8, 3.08 ERA), while the Royals will go with either right-hander Ian Kennedy (4-11, 5.45) or right-hander Sam Gaviglio (4-5, 4.35).
Kennedy was skipped in the rotation last week because of shoulder fatigue and tightness. If he is over that problem, he is expected to get the start.
“We’ve just got to see how Ian feels,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Sunday. “We’ve leaving it open at this point. He’s getting better. But if not, we’ve got Sam.”
Gaviglio has started twice for Kansas City — going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA — after being claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. He is 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two career games (one start) against the Blue Jays.
Kennedy is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two career starts against Toronto.
The Royals must win at least eight of their final 13 games to finish at .500 or better for a fifth season in a row. They have not done that since a run of six straight years from 1975-80.
Kansas City opened an 11-game trip by going 1-3 at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
The day off should help the Royals, who have some key players carrying injuries.
Catcher Salvador Perez (intercostal strain) missed the last three games in Cleveland, including a 3-2 loss to the Indians on Sunday. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain (quadriceps) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (right knee) also were rested Sunday with nagging ailments. Moustakas did strike out as a pinch hitter in the series finale.
All three are expected to play Tuesday.
Moustakas has 36 homers to match the franchise’s single-season record set by Steve Balboni in 1985.
The Royals won two of three from the Blue Jays in Kansas City from June 23-25.
Stroman still has something to accomplish this season. His goal is to reach 200 innings. He is at 184 1/3 innings with three starts remaining. Stroman pitched 204 innings last season.
“That’s a huge goal of mine,” Stroman said after allowing two unearned runs in six innings in a loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 13. “I think that’s part of being an ace, is being able to go out there, give your team 200-plus innings every year.
“It’s getting harder and harder to do with all the analytics and statistics these days. So, trying to do everything I can to get there. That’s something I pride myself on. I want to get to that number.”
Stroman has shown grit and leadership qualities in his past two starts, going six innings each time after taking a Mark Trumbo line drive off his right elbow that knocked him out of the game in the second inning at Baltimore on Sept. 2. He was still feeling the effects of the line drive — tightness in his forearm — but was able to pitch well.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons noticed Stroman grimace after a pitch in the sixth inning Wednesday, but after taking a warmup pitch, the 26-year-old continued.
“Nothing I’m worried about, just felt a little tightness on one particular pitch, but I felt fine the pitch after,” Stroman said.
Stroman has not faced the Royals this season and is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA against them in three career starts. During the 2015 ALCS, he allowed 11 hits and four runs in 6 1/3 innings to earn the win over Kansas City in his only start of the series.