Indians take on first place Royals

After putting together gems in back-to-back victories, the Kansas City Royals’ pitching imploded in the club’s series finale.

But given Jason Vargas’ recent history against the Cleveland Indians, the Royals have to like their chances to get back on track Friday night in Kansas City.

The Royals (74-59) allowed a combined two runs and 10 hits in positioning itself to sweep Minnesota. Jeremy Guthrie was shaky Thursday, however, giving up five runs and nine hits over six innings. Four relievers combined for three hitless innings until Bruce Chen gave up six runs, five hits and two walks in the final inning of an 11-5, 10-inning defeat.

Kansas City, which lost for the fifth time in 19 home games, still leads Detroit by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central.

Vargas (10-6, 3.17 ERA) is 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in his last four matchups with Cleveland, including a 9-5 victory June 10 when he allowed three runs in 7 2-3 innings. He also threw a three-hitter in his last game at Kauffman Stadium, a 3-0 victory over Oakland on Aug. 13.

The left-hander is 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA over his last four starts, though he surrendered a season high-matching 11 hits along with two earned runs over six innings in a 3-1 loss at Texas on Sunday. Vargas’ command was shaky — he issued four walks after walking five over 50 2-3 innings in his previous eight starts.

"It was a start that he really had to grind out. He didn’t have any clean innings," manager Ned Yost said. "I thought he did a phenomenal job of keeping us in the game, getting us through six innings."

The Indians (68-64) have won four of five, including a 3-2 road victory over the Chicago White Sox on Thursday to stay within four games of the league’s second wild-card spot.

"The thing is, try not to look too far ahead," said Michael Bourn, who was 3 for 5 with two triples. "That’s the biggest key – don’t focus on what everybody else is doing every day. All we can control is what’s in (the clubhouse), then go play."

Bourn is 9 for 22 during a five-game hitting streak.

Danny Salazar (4-6, 4.52) looks to continue his recent improvement — going 3-2 with a 3.27 ERA in his last six starts, though he hasn’t won in the last three. He posted a 1-4 record and 5.53 ERA through his first eight outings before being demoted to Triple-A.

"He’s always been a bit of a slow starter," pitching coach Mickey Callaway told MLB’s official website. "We’ve always seen his velocity, like in April, it averages around 92 (mph), and then in September, he averaged 96 last year."

He matched a season high July 27 by throwing seven innings while allowing three runs in a 10-3 win at Kansas City. The Indians have won only two of their last 11 there.

Billy Butler is 5 for 8 with three doubles versus Salazar and 6 for 9 with two homers and five RBIs in his last three against Cleveland.

Six of Mike Moustakas’ 15 home runs and 12 of his 49 RBIs this season have come in his last 11 matchups with the Indians.

Carlos Santana is 12 for 23 with six homers and nine RBIs over his last six against the Royals, with five of the homers coming in that four-game series at Kansas City last month.