After a hiccup against the NL's worst team, the Kansas City Royals resumed their impressive run against the worst club the AL has to offer.
The Texas Rangers could be hard-pressed to slow down Kansas City on Saturday night given the power shown recently by Billy Butler and Josh Willingham.The visiting Royals (71-56) bounced back from Wednesday's 5-2 loss at last-place Colorado with a 6-3 victory over the hapless Rangers (49-78) on Friday. Kansas City has won 23 of 29, turning an eight-game deficit in the AL Central into a 2 1/2-game edge over Detroit in that span.Butler hit his eighth homer while Willingham connected for his 14th. Butler still owns a career-worst OPS of .718 but has compiled a .972 mark over his last 18 games. Willingham is batting .344 and slugging .656 in 10 games since being acquired from the Twins, for whom he hit .210 and slugged .402 over 68 contests.Willingham's former club is 14 games out of first place while Kansas City is eyeing its first playoff berth since 1985."Obviously, it's awesome being in a pennant race, and every game, every at-bat means something," Willingham said.Though Salvador Perez was 0 for 5, his presence in the lineup was a welcome relief after he had been scratched from Wednesday's lineup due to discomfort in his right knee. An MRI only showed inflammation, alleviating some concern considering the All-Star catcher underwent surgery two years ago for a torn meniscus in his other knee.Jeremy Guthrie (9-10, 4.48 ERA) will take aim at winning a career-high fourth straight road start. He owns a 2.45 ERA in that stretch, though he looked vulnerable in Sunday's 12-6 win at Minnesota, yielding four runs -- three on two homers -- over seven innings. He received 11 runs of support, marking the third time in five outings he was backed with at least six runs.Guthrie has never won in four starts at Texas, going 0-1 with a 5.82 ERA. Elvis Andrus is 8 for 19 against him with a home run and two doubles.The Rangers have struggled to find good starting pitching lately, with their staff compiling a 6.99 ERA while losing six of eight. Nick Tepesch (4-7, 4.15) has been strong of late, however, posting a 2.45 ERA in his last four starts.He's just 1-1 in that span, largely due to receiving only six runs of support over 25 2/3 innings.He held the Los Angeles Angels to two runs while pitching seven innings for the second straight outing for the first time in his career in Texas' 3-2 win on Sunday."It's starting to come together for him," manager Ron Washington said of the 25-year-old Kansas City native.Tepesch allowed an unearned run and seven hits over 6 1/3 innings in his only start versus Kansas City, coming away without a decision in the Rangers' 4-1 home loss on June 1, 2013.The Royals had dropped 10 of 11 at Texas before taking four of the last six meetings there.
Following Saturday's games, the Royals now lead the AL Central by 3 games.
This is the furthest into a season they have led the division by at least 3 games since 1985. That was the last time they made the postseason and the only season in which they won the World Series.