The Indians and Royals, both in hot pursuit of an American League Wild Card berth, will clash on Monday night, when they begin a three-game series at Progressive Field.
Cleveland sits in better position in the crowded playoff picture. Heading into the Rays' game at Seattle on Sunday, the Indians were tied with the Orioles, 1 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay, a half-game ahead of the Yankees and 1 1/2 ahead of the Royals for the second Wild Card spot. Kansas City has made up ground, however, with the AL's best record since the All-Star break at 32-19.
The Royals face a serious challenge as they try to draw closer. In their last 19 games, the Royals will play nine against the division-leading Tigers and second-place Indians, and then three with the Rangers. The Royals are 1-5 at Progressive Field this season, with five straight losses.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We have a goal of trying to make the playoffs, and you've got to beat good teams if you're going to do that."
Kansas City will turn to Ervin Santana to reverse that trend. But Santana (8-8, 3.33 ERA) has been dealing with some struggles, going 0-2 with a 4.96 ERA and .319 opponents' average over his past six starts.
The right-hander's slump grew against the Mariners on Wednesday, when he lasted a season-low 3 1/3 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits. He also failed to record a strikeout for only the fifth time in his career.
"I didn't have my best stuff tonight, but I'll just get it next time," Santana said afterward. "I'm not going to give up. I'm going to keep pitching the way I've been pitching the whole year."
Ubaldo Jimenez, on the other hand, has been enjoying his second half. The Indians right-hander (10-9, 3.79) tossed six scoreless innings and held the Orioles to four hits on Tuesday, continuing his recent run of success. In his past eight starts, he has a 3-5 record despite a 2.22 ERA, 52-to-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .212 opponents' average.
"Three or four years ago, he was about as good as anybody in baseball," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Jimenez. "We knew he was carrying the ball pretty well coming in. It seems like he's gotten some arm strength back, which really creates some problems with the changeup."
With staff ace Justin Masterson out with a left oblique strain that could threaten his season, it's even more crucial for Jimenez to maintain his roll.
"We all need to do that," Jimenez said after beating Baltimore. "Masterson is our star and he got hurt, so you have to find a way to step up. If you want to make it to the playoffs, all of us, we have to step up and be there for the team."
Royals: Gaining Cain
Lorenzo Cain's name was in Kansas City's starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 8 when he played right field and hit sixth on Sunday against the Tigers. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
Cain had been out with an oblique strain before returning to action on Thursday, appearing in three games a defensive replacement and going 0-for-2. The 27-year-old is hitting .256/.319/.356 this season.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Cain said before Sunday's game. "I've got to go out there and make adjustments as quick as possible. I didn't get a chance to rehab, but at the same time I've got to go out there and get it done because we're in a playoff run here. I've got to do what I can to help this team."
• After going 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs on Sunday, Emilio Bonifacio is hitting .315 (28-for-89) with 11 walks and 14 runs in 25 games for the Royals. He has stolen 13 bases in 14 tries.
Indians: Pestano's rough return
Vinnie Pestano's relief appearance on Saturday against the Mets was his first for the Indians since July 28, and it didn't go exactly as planned. He gave up two hits and a run without recording an out.
Pestano, who came into the season as a trusted setup man, had a 4.05 ERA over his first 34 games, enduring a stint on the disabled list and a demotion to the Minors.
"Last night, I didn't know where the bottom was," Pestano said on Sunday. "Another level just keeps opening up and I keep falling down. But I keep standing up. I keep answering the bell. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to battle for every pitch I can."
• An 0-for-4 day on Sunday dropped center fielder Michael Bourn to 11-for-59 (.186) with 18 strikeouts over his past 15 games. He last notched a multihit game on Aug. 21.
• The Indians are 8-5 overall in the season series, which will include one more set in Kansas City.
• Santana has held the Indians to one run on nine hits over 14 innings this season, while Jimenez owns a 3.74 ERA in four outings against the Royals.