The Kansas City Royals continue baseball's toughest finishing schedule Monday night against the team with the easiest wrap-up slate when they open a week-long trip with a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics.
The Royals (55-95) flew into Oakland on Sunday night just as the Kansas City Chiefs were flying out following a 28-10 thumping of the Raiders in an NFL matchup.
Unlike the powerful Chiefs, the Royals packed a losing streak for their flight, one that consisted of 4-1, 6-1 and 12-3 home losses to first-place Houston.
After facing the A's (90-60), the second-place team in the AL West and current leader in the AL wild-card race, the Royals will move on to Minnesota to take on the AL Central first-place Twins.
Kansas City then returns home for a five-game homestand in the final week consisting of the National League East first-place Atlanta Braves for two and the Twins again for three.
It's possible the Royals will continue their death march without their top winner, right-hander Jakob Junis, whose 2 2/3-inning start in Sunday's 12-3 loss to the Astros was the shortest of his three-year career.
"I think the innings are adding up for him right now this time of year," Royals manager Ned Yost observed to reporters Sunday. "I'll take a day or two and look at things and see if that might have been his last start of the year."
Junis did not face Oakland when the A's won two of three in a highly competitive series in Kansas City late in August. The series finale was started by right-hander Glenn Sparkman (4-11, 5.94 ERA), who is scheduled to get a rematch on Monday.
Sparkman lasted just 4 1/3 innings in a 9-8 loss during which he was bombed for a home run by Jurickson Profar and two doubles by Seth Brown. That was his only career meeting with the A's.
The A's are expected to counter with right-hander Tanner Roark (10-8, 4.01), who like Sparkman started a losing cause during the Kansas City portion of the season series.
He served up homers to Hunter Dozier and Ryan O'Hearn in an 8-6 defeat in the middle game of the series, a contest for which he did not get a decision. He is 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against the Royals.
Roark is a candidate to pitch the AL Wild Card Game should the A's host it. He's gone 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his four home starts since joining Oakland at the trade deadline, a stretch that includes matchups with St. Louis, Houston and the New York Yankees.
The 32-year-old will be riding a five-win overall unbeaten streak (3-0 record) in the series opener.
The A's have won six straight, including a 14-9, 8-6, 6-1 sweep at Texas that capped a 6-1 trip that began with a 3-1 series win at Houston.
The games against the Rangers began a finishing run during which the A's will play all teams currently under .500 -- the Rangers, Royals, Rangers again, Los Angeles Angels and Seattle.
"It seems like we're hitting on all facets of the game," A's third baseman assured reporters after Sunday's win. "We have our eyes on hosting a wild-card game."
--Field Level Media