Perhaps I buried the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals too early. They were the worst team in baseball in July with a 7-19 record, dropping to as low as seven games under .500 and 9.5 games out of the AL's second wild-card spot. On Sunday, the Royals won their eighth straight game and 13th in the past 15 to get four games above .500 and just 3.5 games out of the second wild-card spot. The rotation's ERA in that stretch, led by Cy Young candidate Danny Duffy, is 2.53. August has been a good month for this team in each of the past two seasons. I still doubt they make the playoffs, but now it's not inconceivable. The schedule does toughen up the next two weeks, starting Tuesday night at NL wild-card hopeful Miami. Kansas City is +2000 to repeat as the AL champion.
Royals at Marlins (-103, 8)
Kansas City turns to Yordano Ventura to keep the winning streak going, with the Royals losing the DH -- which is usually Kendrys Morales, but it's possible he plays the field. Ventura (8-9, 4.46) took a no-decision in Detroit last Wednesday in allowing a run and five hits over 6.1 innings. The Royals have won his past four. This will be his first career start vs. the Marlins. Ichiro Suzuki has faced him, going 0-for-2. Martin Prado is 0-for-3. Miami's Andrew Cashner (4-9, 4.92) looks for his first win since being traded from San Diego. He pitched solidly in his last outing, allowing a run and five hits over five innings in Cincinnati, but the Marlins have dropped his past four. He hasn't faced the Royals this year. Morales, if he gets in the lineup, is 2-for-3 off him with a homer. Eric Hosmer is 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
Key trends: The Royals are 0-8 in Ventura's past eight interleague starts. The Marlins are 4-1 in their past five vs. teams with a winning record. The "over/under" has gone under in four of Ventura's past five on the road.
Early lean: Marlins and under.
Nationals at Orioles (-133, 9)
Battle of the Beltway, with the game shown on the MLB Network. Washington will add the designated hitter. Bryce Harper is starting to hit for the Nationals, batting .333 with two homers and 12 RBIs in 45 at-bats this month (entering Monday) after missing five games in it early with neck spasms and amid reports he's playing through a shoulder injury. The Nats go with rookie Reynaldo Lopez (2-1, 4.37) here. He has made four big-league starts, and his last was easily his best, allowing one earned run and striking out a career-high 11 over seven innings in Atlanta. This will be his first look at an American League team. Baltimore's Kevin Gausman (4-10, 4.11) beat Houston in his last start, allowing five runs and seven hits over 6.2 innings and whiffing eight. It's his first look at Washington this season. Harper is 0-for-2 career off him with a walk. Wilson Ramos is 2-for-3 with a homer.
Key trends: The Nats are 1-5 in their past six on Tuesday. The Orioles are 5-0 in Gausman's past five at home. The over is 6-2 in his past eight interleague starts.
Early lean: Orioles and over.
Rangers at Reds (+103, 9)
Texas loses the DH for this interleague game (usually Carlos Beltran, but he can play the outfield). The Rangers also get good news with the return of lefty pitcher Derek Holland (5-5, 5.20). He hasn't pitched in the majors since June 20 against Baltimore due to a shoulder problem. The Rangers aren't quite sure how he will respond, so Manager Jeff Banister says he will hold back a long reliever in case a problem arises. Holland has never faced the Reds but is 3-5 in his career in interleague play with a 4.48 ERA. One of the National League's best pitchers since the All-Star break has been Cincinnati's Dan Straily (9-6, 3.72). He beat the Marlins last time out, allowing two runs and six hits over six innings. The Reds have won seven straight of his starts. Straily lost in Texas on June 22, giving up four runs over six innings. Elvis Andrus can't hit him, going 1-for-22 with six strikeouts. Adrian Beltre is 7-for-24 against him with three RBIs.
Key trends: The Rangers are 4-0 in Holland's past four interleague starts. The Reds are 4-0 in Straily's past four at home. The under is 5-2 in Texas' past seven series openers.
Early lean: Reds and under.
Red Sox at Rays (-110, 8)
This could be the final start for Clay Buchholz as the Red Sox are expected to activate All-Star knuckleballer Steven Wright from the disabled list this weekend. Buchholz (4-9, 5.42) might avoid being demoted back to the bullpen if he pitches like he did last time out, allowing a run and six hits over six innings in Detroit. Buchholz hasn't faced the Rays this year. Logan Morrison is 5-for-12 career off him with two homers and six RBIs. Evan Longoria is a .217 hitter against him with 16 strikeouts in 46 at-bats. Tampa Bay's Chris Archer (7-16, 4.18) comes off his best start of the year, throwing 7.1 shutout innings against San Diego with nine strikeouts. He hasn't been good at all vs. Boston this year, going 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA in 16.2 innings. David Ortiz is a career .382 hitter off him with three homers and 16 RBIs in 34 at-bats. Xander Bogaerts is 7-for-19 against him with two RBIs.
Key trends: The Red Sox are 1-4 in Buchholz's past five vs. the Rays. Tampa is 0-4 in Archer's past four vs. the Red Sox. The over is 6-0 in Archer's past six vs. Boston.
Early lean: Red Sox and over.
Giants at Dodgers (-109, 6.5)
San Francisco lefty Madison Bumgarner (12-7, 2.25) wasn't as sharp as usual in his last start vs. the Mets but did get the win, allowing four runs (on a grand slam) and six hits over five innings. He also homered. It was Bumgarner's third home run this season and the 14th of his career. He nearly hit another vs. the Mets. Bumgarner became the second pitcher in the modern era to allow a grand slam then hit a go-ahead home run in the same inning. The other was Hal Jeffcoat with the 1957 Cincinnati Reds. Bumgarner is 0-1 with a 4.09 ERA in two starts vs. the Dodgers this year. You might see Enrique Hernandez get a spot start in the outfield for L.A. as he's 10-for-16 career off Bumgarner with three homers and five RBIs. Josh Reddick is 2-for-3 off him with a homer. L.A. goes with Kenta Maeda (12-7, 3.29). He won in Philadelphia last Tuesday, allowing two runs over six innings. Maeda beat the Giants in his lone start against them, giving up a run over seven innings on April 17. Joe Panik is 1-for-2 off him with a homer.
Key trends: The Giants are 0-4 in Bumgarner's past four vs. L.A. The under is 4-1 in his past five at the Dodgers. The under is 5-2 in Maeda's past seven at home.
Early lean: Giants and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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