Opposite dugout: Royals come to Baltimore on a roll

RoyalsLogo.jpgManager: Ned Yost (8th season)

Record: 55-48

Last 10 games: 9-1

Who to watch: 1B Eric Hosmer (.321 average, 16 HR), 2B Whit Merrifield (.339 OBP, 17 SB), 3B Mike Moustakas (30 HR, 69 RBIs), CF Lorenzo Cain (16 SB), LHP Jason Vargas (13-4, 3.00 ERA), LHP Mike Minor (2.49 ERA, 11 holds,), RHP Kelvin Herrera (23 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 3-0

Pitching probables:

July 31: LHP Danny Duffy vs. RHP Ubaldo Jiménez, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 1: RHP Ian Kennedy vs. RHP Dylan Bundy, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 2: LHP Jason Vargas vs. TBA, 7:05, MASN2

Inside the Royals:

Remember the first six or seven weeks of the season, when the Royals looked like a burned-out shell of the team that won it all a couple of years back? Well, don't look now, but the Royals suddenly are partying like it's 2015, winning 11 of their last 14, and are now just two games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. Four of those wins came in walk-off fashion. Over that two-week stretch, they batted .307 with 33 RBIs, 22 home runs, 20 doubles and three triples, and stole 14 bases.

No one has been hotter than Eric Hosmer (.321/.377/.497, 55 RBIs), who hit .370 in that time. Of course, the three-time Gold Glove first baseman hadn't exactly been slumping to begin with. His average hasn't dipped below .300 since May. Also heating up recently is second baseman Whit Merrifield (.299/.339/.488). Although he began the season with Triple-A Omaha, Merrifield has become an important table-setter for big boppers Hosmer, catcher Salvador Perez (289/.318/.530, 21 homers, 64 RBIs), right fielder Jorge Bonifacio (.258/.327/.446, 14 homers) and third baseman Mike Moustakas (.275/.305/.561), whose 30 dingers put him behind only Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Jockeying with Merrifield for the team lead in stolen bases is center fielder Lorenzo Cain (.274/.344/.427).

Lefty Danny Duffy (7-6 3.56 ERA), now in his seventh year with the Royals, gets the start in tonight's series opener. With opposing left-handed batters hitting just .188, nearly 100 points lower than righties, don't be surprised if Seth Smith or even Chris Davis gets the night off. In a May 12 start against the Orioles in Kansas City, Duffy scattered eight hits and struck out six for a no-decision. Veteran Ian Kennedy (4-6, 4.43 ERA), who pitches Tuesday, is the only right-handed starter the O's will face in this series. He's had trouble getting deep into games at times this year, and has given up more than his share of home runs, so expect some big swings from O's hitters. Since getting to the big leagues for good in 2009, Jason Vargas (13-4, 3.00 ERA) has posted unspectacular numbers. But Vargas, who starts Wednesday's finale, qualifies as the Royals' ace in 2017. The veteran, whose fastball velocity is below average, leans heavily on a changeup. He's coming off a six-inning effort in Boston in which he gave up just one run on five hits.

Closer Kelvin Herrera (3-2, 4.17 ERA) has used a 98 mph four-seam fastball and a 90 mph change to nearly double last year's save total already, but he's also given up more homers this season than in all of 2016.

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