Royals will ‘keep chugging away’ in rubber game vs. Rays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Tampa Bay Rays and the Kansas City Royals have sub-.500 records.

Normally, that would rule a club out of postseason contention by the end of August, but this year is different. The Royals (65-66) and the Rays (66-68) are among a plethora of American League clubs contending for a wild-card berth.

The Minnesota Twins own the second wild-card position, but the Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Kansas City and Tampa Bay are all within 3 1/2 games of that spot.

“We’re still in the middle of this thing,” said Whit Merrifield, who homered in the third inning Tuesday to end the Royals’ 45-inning scoreless skid, leading Kansas City to a 6-2 victory.

“We’ve got a month and some change left, and we’re three games back for the wild card. We’ve got a good shot at this thing. We believe in ourselves. We’re going to keep chugging away, and hopefully, we can build on this.”

The Rays and Royals conclude their three-game series Thursday at Kauffman Stadium after splitting the first two games.

“We’re getting down to the end right now, so each game is huge for us,” said Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, who hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning Tuesday.

The Rays’ Wednesday starter will be right-hander Jake Odorizzi, who made his major league debut with the Royals. He started two games in 2012 for Kansas City but was traded to Tampa Bay after the season as part of a package to get James Shields and Wade Davis.

Will Odorizzi get an adrenaline rush facing his former club?

“It’s been a while (since he pitched for Kansas City),” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s kind of been there, done that, but I would imagine he’s got some good buddies over there.

“That brings the competition a little bit more, but I think Jake is really just focused on going out and giving a good outing and helping us try to win a game here in Kansas City.”

Odorizzi (6-7, 4.82 ERA) has lasted just 3 2/3 innings in each of his past two starts, the first time in his career he went less than four innings in back-to-back outings.

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