After their comeback win put them back atop the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals have to be feeling good about staying there behind right-hander Ervin Santana.
The Royals send their hottest pitcher to the hill Thursday when they try for a three-game sweep and eighth win in nine home meetings against the road-weary Tampa Bay Rays.Kansas City (15-10) fell into a 5-0 hole Wednesday and appeared to be on its way to a third loss in four games, but closed the deficit to 5-4 before scoring five times in the sixth inning for a 9-6 lead.Lorenzo Cain and Jeff Francoeur provided the key hits during that sixth-inning rally and the Royals held on for a 9-8 victory that moved them back atop the Central."It looked like we were behind the eight-ball," said designated hitter Billy Butler, who is batting .345 with five homers and 14 RBIs in 22 home games against the Rays, "but we just stayed within ourselves and kept pecking away."The Royals look to carry over their momentum as they go for their first sweep since taking three in a row from Minnesota in their first home series.Since losing his debut with the Royals, Santana (3-1, 2.00 ERA) has been outstanding with a 3-0 record and a 1.20 ERA over his last four starts -- all Kansas City victories.The right-hander put together his best outing Saturday when he allowed six singles over seven shutout innings in a 3-2 win over Cleveland."He's been pretty electric," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.Santana, though, hasn't fared nearly as well in 13 starts against the Rays, going 5-6 with a 5.47 ERA. He's allowed 15 runs and seven homers over his last 16 1/3 innings versus Tampa Bay.It's not likely to be any easier this time against the Rays (12-15), who have totaled 28 runs and batted .314 with eight home runs in the last four games.Tampa Bay, however, fell to 2-4 on its 10-game trip and has lost 11 of 15 on the road overall."We actually did a lot of things well, another good offensive night," manager Joe Maddon said. "For the pitching to come apart is really unusual for us."Evan Longoria, who went 3 for 5 with a double and triple Wednesday, is 5 for 12 with a pair of homers against Santana.In only his second start due to a calf injury, Luke Scott had three hits -- including his first home run. He's also 8 for 21 with two doubles and two homers in this matchup.James Loney is also swinging a hot bat, going 11 for 23 over his last five contests.Tampa Bay's Roberto Hernandez (1-4, 5.28) will try to bounce back after falling to 0-3 with a 6.50 ERA in three road starts with a 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Friday. The right-hander allowed five runs and a career-worst three homers over six innings."I tried to keep the ball down to get a ground ball but I couldn't get the ground ball," said Hernandez, who is 2-2 with a 5.92 ERA in seven career starts in Kansas City.Alex Gordon has given Hernandez trouble throughout his career with 15 hits -- including a homer and four doubles -- in 31 at-bats.