With red-hot Cleveland running away in the American League Central, the Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals have been relegated to the wild-card chase in order to reach the postseason. That puts heightened pressure on the division rivals when they open a pivotal four-game series on Thursday in Kansas City.
Holding down the second wild-card spot over a cluster of pursuers, Minnesota sends out Kyle Gibson, who will be looking to win his fourth consecutive start and beat the Royals for the second time in a week. Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar recorded three hits and drove in three runs in Wednesday’s 10-6 win at Tampa Bay, giving him 11 RBIs over his last five games - including eight against Kansas City last weekend. Whit Merrifield registered three doubles and three RBIs in a 13-2 win at Detroit that capped a 4-2 road trip and drew Kansas City within 2 1/2 games of Minnesota. Mike Moustakas, who leads the Royals with 36 homers, exited Wednesday’s game due to right lateral knee irritation and is listed as day-to-day.
TV: 8:15 p.m. ET, FSN North (Minnesota), FSN Kansas City
PITCHING MATCHUP: Twins RH Kyle Gibson (9-10, 5.33 ERA) vs. Royals RH Sam Gaviglio (3-5, 4.62)
Gibson was staked to a 10-run lead after two innings and tossed six scoreless frames in a 17-0 drubbing of Kansas City on Friday. He has surrendered only three runs over 19 2/3 innings during his winning streak, dropping his ERA below 5.40 for the first time this season. Moustakas (10-for-28) and Alcides Escobar (12-for-37) have fared well versus Gibson, but Melky Cabrera is just 2-for-25.
Claimed off waivers from Seattle last week, Gaviglio will be thrust into a big spot in his Royals debut - his first action in the majors since losing four straight starts with the Mariners from June 24-July 18. He will be seeking his first win since beating the Twins in Minnesota on June 14. Gaviglio surrendered three homers in that start and has served up 15 in 62 1/3 innings.
1. C Salvador Perez homered twice on Wednesday to give Kansas City 170 for the season, eclipsing the franchise mark of 168 that was set in 1987.
2. Twins 1B Joe Mauer, whose 14-game hitting streak ended Wednesday, went 7-for-13 versus Kansas City last weekend.
3. Royals CF Lorenzo Cain is 8-for-13 during his four-game hitting streak.
PREDICTION: Royals 5, Twins 4