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Royals get first of 10 remaining chances to beat Indians

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the next 15 games, the Kansas City Royals should have a clear vision of whether they are truly postseason contenders.

They play six of their next nine games against the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians, who lead the AL Central.

The nine other games are all against postseason wannabes: the Colorado Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins.

The Royals and Indians open a three-game series Friday at Kauffman Stadium in the first of 10 remaining games between the teams.

Kansas City manager Ned Yost said he is shooting to win the division, not be a wild-card team in October. With so many games left against the Indians, including four in September in Cleveland, the Royals cannot afford to slip up against them at home.

"I think we all realize over the last couple years that's kind of how the schedule works out now, where that last month you really play a lot of teams in your division," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "I think it's something we all realize is something that still has to happen. When you have the ability to control your own destiny, you feel you have a shot as a team. Your goal is to be on top of the division at the end of the year. We still have that in our sights because it's extremely possible."

The Royals will be rested for the series after a day off Thursday while the Indians played a doubleheader at Minnesota. The Indians split the two games and are a half-game up on the Royals.

"They're huge series, just because of how good they are as a team," Hosmer said. "So if you go in there and win a series against a team like that, not only are you gaining ground in the standings but you're gaining a lot of momentum as well. It's a huge deal for your confidence as a team, especially the caliber of arms they have over there."

The Indians will start AL Cy Young Award candidate Corey Kluber (11-3, 2.71 ERA) on Friday. Right-handers Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar will be the Indians' starters for the final two games.

"If you go in there and take two of three and, say, beat a guy like Kluber on the mound, it can do a lot of good for your team," Hosmer said.

Hosmer is 14-for-50 (.280) with three home runs and 13 RBI off Kluber.

"He's unbelievable. He really is," Hosmer said. "He's just really identified himself as one of the top guys in this game. Especially down the stretch of crunch time, he always seems to step up for his team.

"That's part of the big leagues, man. If you want to win a division, you've got to go through a guy like that, and we realize that. We know it's going to be a tough challenge, but that's why we all sign up to play, for moments like that."

Right-hander Ian Kennedy (4-8, 4.80) will oppose Kluber in the first game. On paper, it appears to be a mismatch.

Kennedy hasn't won in 10 home starts this season, going 0-5 with a 5.43 ERA. He is winless in his past 14 Kauffman Stadium starts since beating the Twins on Aug. 20, 2016.

That matches the franchise record for consecutive winless home starts, held by Mac Suzuki (1999-2000) and Glendon Rusch (1997-98). It is not a record Kennedy wants.

Some Royals hitters have done well against Kluber.

Melky Cabrera is 27-for-56 (.472), while Mike Moustakas is 17-for-37

(.459) with one home run.

Moustakas' next home run will be his 36th this season, tying Steve Balboni's club record.

After a slow start, the Indians are back in control of the division primarily because of their strong starting pitching.

"I don't think you get too satisfied in the middle of August," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think we're trending in the right direction. But I think with those types of things, you just show up every day and keep plugging away or the trend can go the other way, until you're done. But it does feel better.

"When you show up and you feel like you're going to get a pretty well-pitched game, that helps everybody. Some of it goes to our pitchers' work ethic. Our pitchers don't seem to tire as you get into August, September. I think that helps a ton."