Both the Kansas City Royals and Chicago White Sox have played their way into the conversation for not only an AL wild-card spot, but more importantly, first place in the Central Division.
The Royals try for a fifth straight win while the White Sox look to keep playing well within the division in Friday night’s series opener in Chicago.
Kansas City was 6 1/2 games behind Central-leading Detroit on May 28, but has since won nine of 13 to pull within 2 1/2 games.
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"You’ve got to have faith in your players. If you don’t, you’re in trouble," manager Ned Yost told MLB’s official website after his team scored all its runs by tying a franchise record with four sacrifice flies in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Cleveland. "When you have faith in your players and know what they’re capable of doing, it makes it easier to stay patient and try to keep the waters as calm as you possibly can when everybody else wants to make them choppy."
The Royals are averaging 4.6 runs and 0.8 homers per game in their last 13 after previously averaging 3.8 and 0.4 per contest. Alex Gordon is batting .317 with four home runs and a .472 on-base percentage in the last 13, while Eric Hosmer has hit two of his three homers in the last four contests.
The White Sox have made up 5 1/2 games since May 18 to pull 3 1/2 back of the Tigers. They had a chance to move within 1 1/2 games but were three-hit by Max Scherzer in a 4-0 loss Thursday as Detroit salvaged the finale of a rain-shortened three-game series.
"When you have a chance to sweep, you want to," losing pitcher Chris Sale said. "But winning the series is important. You win every series and put yourself in a good position."
The White Sox have still won eight of 10 against AL Central foes, which includes taking two of three in Kansas City last month.
Alexei Ramirez is batting .348 with a homer and six RBIs against the Royals this year, but rookie sensation Jose Abreu is just 1 for 11.
Jose Quintana (3-6, 3.59 ERA) takes the ball looking to bounce back from one of his worst outings.
Quintana had posted a 2.65 ERA over a six-start stretch before permitting four runs, seven hits and four walks in a season-low 4 1-3 innings in Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Angels.
The left-hander has made more starts against the Royals than any other team (nine), but has yet to beat them. In his lone 2014 matchup, Quintana allowed three runs in 7 1-3 innings of a 3-1 loss May 21.
Some of Kansas City’s top hitters have been stymied by Quintana, with Lorenzo Cain going 5 for 22 (.227), Billy Butler 4 for 21 (.190), Gordon 3 for 23 (.130), and Hosmer 2 for 24 (.083).
The Royals counter with Jeremy Guthrie (2-6, 4.10), who has made 11 starts since his last win and has been saddled with the loss in each of the last three.
Part of Guthrie’s problem can be attributed to lack of support since he’s been backed by three total runs in his last five starts. He had a 1.80 ERA over a three-start span before yielding four runs in seven innings of last Friday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees.
The right-hander pitched well enough to beat Quintana and the White Sox on May 21, yielding a run and three hits in seven innings but was left without a decision.
This will be Guthrie’s first 2014 appearance in Chicago, where he is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in four starts since 2012.