Although a loss to the Cleveland Indians in Wednesday night's series finale wouldn't officially end Kansas City's playoff hopes, it conceivably could make the deficit for the wild card too great for the Royals to overcome.
The Royals look to rebound from a disappointing defeat when they face the Indians for the season's final time.
Leading the Indians 3-0 after five innings on Tuesday, Kansas City had a chance to pull within a single game of Cleveland in the AL wild-card race. Instead, the Indians scored in four consecutive frames to secure a 5-3 win at Kauffman Stadium.
"It happens sometimes," Royals catcher Salvador Perez said. "We have to keep going, keep playing hard through the last day of the season."
Michael Bourn drew Cleveland within one with an RBI triple and scored on a sacrifice fly to tie the score in the seventh. Asdrubal Cabrera gave the Indians (82-69) the lead with a run-scoring double an inning later, and Bourn provided insurance with a solo shot in the ninth.
Bourn is batting .310 with four extra-base hits over a seven-game hitting streak and is batting .300 against the Royals this season.
"We have a scrappy group in here, and we're not done," said Nick Swisher, whose sacrifice fly in the seventh tied it. "We're going to keep pushing because we want this. We want it bad.''
Cleveland snapped a streak of three straight losses to Kansas City and stands one-half game back of both Tampa Bay and Texas for the AL's two wild-card spots. The Royals (79-72), despite 15 wins in 23 games, stand 3 1/2 games back.
After this contest, Kansas City has three games against the Rangers, followed by a series with Seattle and the Chicago White Sox. Considering the Indians have a far easier path to the playoffs, with remaining series against Houston, the White Sox and Minnesota - the AL's three worst teams - the Royals can't afford a letdown in their last meeting.
Though he hasn't given the Indians many innings, Danny Salazar (1-2, 2.66 ERA) has made the most of his time on the mound.
Constrained by an 85-pitch limit, the right-hander has made it into the fifth inning in just two of his last six starts. That includes Friday against Chicago, when he lasted a season-low 3 2-3 innings.
"I felt good," Salazar said. "Too many pitches."
Salazar has fared well, however, allowing one run in his last 15 2-3 innings, including a scoreless performance Friday.
Perhaps buoyed by the rest he has received, Salazar has struck out 11.95 batters per nine innings, the highest total of any major league starter with at least 20 innings. He has 17 strikeouts in his last 7 2-3 innings, and recorded nine of 11 outs via the strikeout Friday.
The Royals turn to Bruce Chen (7-3, 3.11), who allowed six runs in 4 1-3 innings in Friday's 6-3 loss at Detroit.
"They had a really good plan going in. They were hacking early," said the veteran left-hander, who had gone 2-0 with a 2.41 ERA over his previous three starts. "They prepared themselves really well."
Chen, reached for seven home runs in his first 81 1-3 innings, has given up a long ball in each of his last four starts.
The Indians haven't seen Chen since July 12, when he held them to a hit in six innings of a 3-0 loss in his first start of the year.
Though Chen's lifetime ERA against the Indians rests at 4.33, he hasn't allowed an earned run in 12 1-3 innings against them this season.
Chen has struggled against Michael Brantley, who is 9 for 17 off him.