As the Kansas City Royals look to continue their quest toward a second straight postseason appearance and first division title in 30 years, the Chicago White Sox hope the All-Star break won’t halt the progress they’ve made over the last two weeks.
Both clubs look to pick up where they left off with Friday’s split doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field.
Paced by baseball’s best bullpen (2.11 ERA) and a lineup that produced five All-Stars, Kansas City (52-34) has the AL’s best record and a 4 1/2-game lead over Minnesota in the Central.
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”It doesn’t really matter what we’ve done,” manager Ned Yost said. ”You’ve just got to keep your head down and keep plodding along.”
The Royals entered the break by winning seven of the last eight on an 8-3 homestand but were swept in three games by Houston their last time on the road.
The reigning AL champions won the first four against the White Sox (41-45) then dropped the last two at Chicago in an April three-game series that opened with a benches-clearing brawl and the ejections of five players.
Neither team expects the same type of behavior this weekend, especially the White Sox.
Saddled with lofty expectations after signing veterans Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and David Robertson, the White Sox were 32-42 before posting a 1.95 ERA while winning nine of their last 12.
”We’re playing some good baseball, we’re beating some good teams so I wish we didn’t have the All-Star break to be honest with you,” said leadoff hitter Adam Eaton, who is 4 for 26 against the Royals this year.
Drawing the start in the opener, Jeff Samardzija is 2-0 with a 2.40 ERA in his last six outings and has a 0.54 mark in the past two. He tossed a four-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Toronto on July 9.
The right-hander was tagged for five runs in six-plus innings of a season-opening 10-1 loss at Kansas City on April 6. Samardzija (6-4, 4.02) and Royals Game 1 starter Edinson Volquez (8-4, 3.31) were ejected for their parts in the brawl on April 23.
Volquez is 1-1 with a 1.32 ERA against the White Sox this season. Though the right-hander is 4-0 in his last seven starts and has yielded one earned run in four of those, he’s completed at least six innings twice.
Cabrera is 1 for 5 with a pair of walks against Volquez this season but has batted .353 in his last 10 games.
He’s 4 for 6 with two doubles and a triple against Chris Young (7-5, 3.00), who takes the mound in the nightcap.
The right-hander has been a pleasant surprise for Kansas City but is 0-2 with a 4.15 ERA in three July outings. He gave up three runs in six-plus innings of a 6-2 loss to Toronto on Saturday.
He’ll be opposed by John Danks (4-8, 5.30), who gave up six runs and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-6, 11-inning victory over the Blue Jays on July 8. The left-hander allowed three runs in six innings of a 5-3 win April 26 to move to 4-0 with a 3.86 ERA in seven home starts against the Royals.
All-Star Lorenzo Cain is a combined 3 for 8 with a double against Danks and Samardzija this season.