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KC@TEX: Ventura fans six over six frames vs. Rangers

The Royals have a massive opportunity to grow their lead in the American League Central when they begin a three-game series against the Rangers, who have the worst record in baseball, on Monday.

This series against Texas is the last in a 10-game homestand for Kansas City. The Rangers, meanwhile, come north from Houston, where they dropped three of four games against their in-state foes.

Entering their Sunday night contest, the Royals found themselves back on top of the division by a half-game, thanks to the Tigers' 6-2 loss to the White Sox earlier in the day.

After Sunday night, though, they had neither built on nor lost their division lead -- heavy rain and wind forced a suspension of Sunday's game against the Indians, who led, 4-2, in the bottom of the 10th.

That contest resumes on Sept. 22 in Cleveland. The Indians are 3 1/2 games back of Kansas City in the division, but they're three outs (and three weeks) away from finishing off a sweep of the weekend series and gaining a full game.

Yordano Ventura, the Royals' Monday starter, will return after missing an outing due to tightness in his back. The rookie had been feeling the injury since being pulled after 107 pitches in a win over the Rangers on Aug. 22.

Manager Ned Yost said it's possible he could've kept the right-hander in the rotation without any extra rest, but he ultimately decided against it.

"We could try to push it, but it doesn't make much sense right now. Let him get through it," Yost said at the time.

Ventura is a crucial component of the Royals' rotation as they make a push at their first division title since 1985. In 25 games, he's 10-9 with an ERA of 3.40.

Texas starter Colby Lewis, meanwhile, is coming off his second complete game of the season. Lewis' most impressive stuff this season has come away from Globe Life Park in Arlington. He's 7-3 with a 3.69 ERA on the road.

"It's easy to go out and pound the strike zone when the guys give me the opportunity like that," Lewis said after his most recent complete game, a 12-4 win over Seattle. "It's real easy to throw strikes when we score that many runs. You just try to get ahead and throw strike one."

Rangers: September versus contenders
The Rangers' three-game series with the Royals opens a month in which all but three games are against contending teams. After leaving Kansas City, the Rangers return home for 10 games against the Mariners, Angels and Braves.

Their final road trip is six games against the Athletics and Angels. The final homestand includes three against the Astros and then four against the Athletics.

"It gives you a better read on the young players," manager Ron Washington said. "You're facing better pitching and better opponents. You're facing top-notch pitching every night. We'll see who can handle that."

Washington said the word "spoiler" doesn't mean anything.

"I want to win," Washington said. "I want to win against everybody. I want to beat them all. That's the way we go about it."

Royals: Willingham likely due back
Josh Willingham, a designated hitter and bat off the bench, is expected to be available for pinch-hitting duty on Monday night.

Willingham wasn't available to pinch-hit in Saturday night's 11-inning loss because of a sore back, and he also sat out Sunday night's game against the Indians.

"It's crazy, it's a lot like Ventura's. It's in the same spot as Ventura's -- it's mid-back," Yost said.

"We're shooting to have him available to pinch-hit [Monday] and be ready to DH against Texas on the day they throw a lefty."

Lefty Derek Holland is the Rangers' probable pitcher for Tuesday night.

Worth noting
• Left-handers are batting .343 off Lewis this season.

• Ventura's 125 strikeouts are the most by a Royals rookie since Kevin Appier's 127 in 1990, and his current streak of six quality starts is the most since Appier's eight straight in that same season.

• The Royals have won five of their last eight games against the Rangers. But Texas is 18-11 at Kauffman Stadium since 2005.

• The Royals' 19-10 record in August matched the Nationals and Angels for the month's best in the Majors. Comments