Royals-Rays Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated June 13, 2013
Home-field advantage has been critical over the last three seasons when the Tampa Bay Rays meet the Kansas City Royals. That should mean the Rays have a decided edge since they are hosting this four-game series with the Royals that begins Thursday night. Only two of the last 15 meetings have been won by the visiting team. Kansas City (30-33) has lost seven of eight at Tropicana Field while getting limited to a .199 average and 14 runs. The Royals had 17 runs and 24 hits in sweeping a two-game home set against Tampa Bay (35-30) from April 30-May 1. Kansas City is brimming with confidence heading into the opener of a seven-game trip after taking two of three from Detroit to pull within 5 1/2 games of the first-place Tigers. The Royals have won seven of eight overall after a dramatic 3-2, 10-inning victory Wednesday. Lorenzo Cain hit a tying, two-run homer off Jose Valverde with two outs in the ninth, and Eric Hosmer had the winning RBI single in the 10th. "That was a great win," Hosmer said. "We're down to our last strike with the closer on the mound. That's just the character of this team. We're not going to give up until the last out is made." Kansas City starters own a 1.90 ERA over the last eight games while the bullpen has yielded one run over its last 25 2-3 innings. Cain has seven RBIs in his last six games, and Salvador Perez is batting .367 during an eight-game hitting streak. Cain and Perez combined to go 8 for 17 with four RBIs in the first series between these clubs. Royals manager Ned Yost will miss this game to attend his daughter's wedding. Bench coach Chino Cadahia will manage in his place. Tampa Bay had been surging offensively with 31 runs over a four-game stretch before being stifled in Wednesday's 2-1 loss to Boston. "They did a nice job against us because we've been scoring a lot of runs," manager Joe Maddon said. Evan Longoria will try to homer in four consecutive games for the first time in his career after he had three solo shots as the Rays dropped two of three to the Red Sox. Both teams will start right-handers Thursday. Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson (4-2, 5.18 ERA) hasn't lost since April 25, although that's mostly because of a 6.86 run support average that ranks among baseball's best. Hellickson has been pitching better lately with victories in consecutive starts, including six stellar innings in Saturday's 8-0 win over Baltimore. He's 1-0 with a 2.79 ERA in three starts against the Royals, yielding four runs over five innings in a 9-3 loss May 1. Billy Butler is 5 for 9 against him and Alex Gordon 4 for 9. Kansas City's Ervin Santana (4-5, 2.99), meanwhile, owns a much lower run support average of 3.20. He earned his 100th victory Saturday by surrendering two runs in seven innings of a 7-2 win over Houston, also ending a personal four-game slide. Santana's 6.84 ERA at Tropicana Field is his third-worst mark at any AL ballpark, and he's 2-5 in nine starts there. Longoria (5 for 12 with two homers), Luke Scott (8 for 21 with two homers) and Yunel Escobar (7 for 17) have all fared well against Santana.
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