A pair of second-place teams square off Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, as the Kansas City Royals host the Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels in the opener of a three-game set.
The surging Angels have reeled off six straight wins to move to within 3 1/2 games of AL West division leader Oakland. They are coming off Thursday's 6-4 triumph over Minnesota to cap an unblemished homestand.
Albert Pujols went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBI, headlining a lineup that churned out 14 hits in support of winning pitcher Jered Weaver. After hitting at a .217 clip with 11 RBI over his previous 35 games, Pujols has hit .333 with 11 RBI over the last 11 games.
"I think Albert, when he's swinging it well, he's going to hit the ball whether there's runners in position, nobody on, whatever the case is," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's going to square balls up and hit it hard."
Weaver tossed seven innings of one-run ball in the win, as he struck out six and walked only one. It marked the team's 12th win in its last 13 games at Angel Stadium.
Meanwhile, Kansas City has fallen 4 1/2 games off the pace in the AL Central, as first-place Detroit has won seven in a row entering Friday. The Royals held a 1 1/2-game lead before the Tigers began their streak.
They dropped two of three at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers this week, including Wednesday's 5-4 setback that was ultimately decided on a hit-by- pitch.
With the bases loaded in the top of the eighth inning of a 4-4 game, Royals reliever Wade Davis plunked A.J. Ellis. It was Davis' first run allowed since April 23, and it was a costly one for the Royals. Starter James Shields went seven innings and allowed four runs on seven hits.
"They all sting, some a little bit worse than others," manager Ned Yost said after his team rallied back from a 3-1 deficit. "But they all sting."
Toeing the rubber for Kansas City in Friday's opener is Jason Vargas, who started 24 games for the Halos last season. After posting a 4.02 ERA in 24 starts last year, Vargas has settled nicely with the Royals as he boasts a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts this season.
Against Seattle last Saturday, the left-hander went a season-long 8 2/3 innings. However, after convincing his manager to leave him in the game, Vargas surrendered a two-out double that started the Mariners' decisive rally in the top of the ninth.
For the Angels, Matt Shoemaker eyes up his third win in as many starts. He went 7 2/3 innings against Texas his last time out and yielded only one earned run on eight hits, while striking out six and walking two. Shoemaker has not lost any of his seven starts this season.
"He may be 10 miles an hour short (of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan), but he goes out with that attitude, with that makeup," Scioscia said. "He goes out with the idea of a gunslinger. 'I'm going to make my pitches and I'm very, very comfortable in what I need to do out there on the mound.'"
The Angels took two of three from the Royals when these teams met up at Angel Stadium in late-May.