(AP) — It’s all but assured that the Kansas City Royals will be AL Central champions and part of the playoffs for a second straight season. It’s also becoming apparent that they won’t be seeing the Baltimore Orioles there again.
The Royals seek their ninth straight win over the spiraling Orioles on Wednesday night as Johnny Cueto looks to rebound from a dismal performance.
With a 13-game lead in the Central and the best record in the league, it’s looking very likely that Kansas City (77-48) will be a division winner for the first time since 1985. The Royals made their first playoff appearance since that year last season and swept the Orioles in the ALCS en route to the World Series.
After scoring seven runs in the sixth inning to take Monday’s opener 8-3, Kansas City had no need for a comeback Tuesday in a 3-2 victory. Kendrys Morales homered and three relievers worked 3 1-3 scoreless innings to lift the Royals to their 14th win in 18 games and 12th in 14 at home.
“They did an awesome job,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of his bullpen. “It’s what they do.”
Mike Moustakas added a run-scoring single and is batting .375 with three homers and eight RBIs during a six-game hit streak.
A slumping offense continues to plague Baltimore (62-63), which has scored 15 runs and batted .225 during a season-high six-game skid to fall below .500 for the first time since July 26. The Orioles last dropped seven in row as part of a nine-game slide July 4-15, 2011.
“We’ve just got to figure out a way to score more runs,” manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s one of the reasons why they’re sitting where they are, is they don’t give up many.”
Several of their best hitters are slumping at the worst time. Chris Davis is 0 for his last 16 with nine strikeouts, while Manny Machado is batting .154 in the losing streak.
Both will get their first look at what should be a very motivated Cueto (2-2, 3.00 ERA), who was roughed up for seven runs and a career-high 13 hits over six innings in a 7-2 loss at Boston on Friday.
That performance came after the right-hander allowed six runs in his first four starts with Kansas City.
“Just a bad outing. I’m going to keep my head up and get them next time,” Cueto told MLB’s official website through an interpreter.
Cueto has quickly taken a liking to pitching at Kauffman Stadium, going 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts there since joining the Royals.
He has never faced the Orioles but is plenty familiar with Gerardo Parra, who is 7 for 23 with two home runs in their matchups.
Baltimore hopes Wei-Yin Chen (7-6, 3.13) can continue his string of solid outings. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 1.86 ERA in his last three starts and was in line to win his fourth straight decision Friday against Minnesota. He allowed one run in six innings but the bullpen faltered in a 4-3 loss.
He’ll oppose the Royals for the first time since a 2-1 loss in Game 3 of the ALCS. Chen is 1-2 with a 4.07 ERA in seven career starts against Kansas City but has a 2.55 ERA in the past three.
This has been a very favorable matchup for Eric Hosmer, who is 9 for 20 with two homers and a double against Chen. Lorenzo Cain (.400) and Ben Zobrist (.371) have also hit him well.