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Royals-Rays Preview

AP - Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays don't currently look like the team that was scuffling to score runs back in June when they were swept by the Kansas City Royals.

The surging Rays put up some eye-popping offensive numbers against a fellow contender and will look for some revenge against the Royals on Monday night to start a three-game home set.

Tampa Bay (67-54) holds the AL's top wild-card spot after winning 11 of 13, capped by a four-game road sweep of the Angels. The Rays homered nine times and scored 37 runs - a team record for a four-game set - against one of the teams pursuing them for a postseason spot.

That kind of offense was largely absent when Tampa Bay produced six runs and batted .229 with 25 strikeouts while getting swept in three games June 25-27 at Kansas City (54-66).

Evan Longoria wasn't with the Rays then, and he went 5 for 16 with a pair of two-run homers in the Angels series. Ben Zobrist was 5 for 12 with two solo homers and six runs scored and B.J. Upton went 7 for 18 with two homers and five RBIs.

The Royals figure to be competitive despite not being in contention. While Tampa Bay is a major league-best 14-4 since July 31, Kansas City is 13-6 for the AL's second-best mark in that span.

Kansas City also swept a tough opponent over the weekend by taking three games from the AL Central-leading White Sox. Royals starters posted a 1.74 ERA in the series after Jeremy Guthrie took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of Sunday's 5-2 victory.

"It was a full-team affair, starting pitching, bullpen, clutch hitting, great defense," manager Ned Yost said. "It was a great series for us."

Salvador Perez went 4 for 8 with five RBIs in the series and Billy Butler was 5 for 9 for Kansas City.

"The thing that I really like about Sal in the five-hole right now is that he provides great protection behind Billy," Yost said.

The Rays haven't produced much offense in losing their last seven home games started by Jeremy Hellickson (7-8, 3.39 ERA). He is 0-6 with a 5.45 ERA in that span, with Tampa Bay totaling 12 runs of support.

The right-hander gave up one run over seven innings opposite Felix Hernandez's perfect game in last Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Seattle. Hellickson excelled in his lone career start against the Royals last year, yielding one run over 7 1-3 innings as he failed to get a decision Aug. 8 in a 2-1 home victory.

The Royals have dropped 24 of their last 30 games at Tropicana Field, including five straight.

They will give Will Smith (4-4, 5.09) his first career start against Tampa Bay. The rookie left-hander has allowed two runs over seven innings in winning each of his last two outings, beating Oakland 3-2 last Wednesday.

The Rays have played 13 straight days entering this series, and manager Joe Maddon is concerned about how his club will be affected by the cross-country flight.

"It's a scheduling thing and it's not easy because it's not just about (Monday)," Maddon told the Rays' official website. "Tuesday's going to be even worse, in regards to energy level."

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