The last time the Royals were in first place this late in the season was in 2003. That year, they were tied for first on Aug. 29, but they went 13-16 the rest of the way and saw their playoff drought -- already at 18 years -- continue.
The 2014 Royals, entering Friday's series opener against the Rangers leading the American League Central by a game over the Tigers, are trying to ensure history doesn't repeat itself. So far, they're doing a good job, having won 20 of 26 since being 50-50 on July 23.
Derailing the three-time defending AL Central champs won't be easy, and the Royals look to keep their distance from the Tigers when they give the ball to Yordano Ventura in Friday's opener of a three-game series against the Rangers at Globe Life Park.
The 23-year-old rookie right-hander gave up six runs over 4 1/3 innings in his first start after the All-Star break, taking a loss against the Red Sox in Boston on July 20. But he's gone 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA in five starts since then. The loss came in his last outing, when he allowed three runs on four hits over 6 2/3 frames at Minnesota last Saturday. He struggled with his command, issuing six walks.
Royals manager Ned Yost is confident in his young hurler, even though things didn't work out the way he would have liked in that game.
"The thing with him is, he walked the bases loaded with one out, but he's got stuff to get out of it," Yost said.
Tasked with containing an offense is batting .281 during the month of August, Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis will not only have to face a hot Royals lineup, but he will also be pitching in a ballpark at which he's struggled mightily this season. Lewis is 2-7 with a 7.29 ERA at home in 2014, the highest home ERA of any pitcher in the Majors.
"It doesn't matter who I'm facing, I've got a job to do," Lewis said. "I can't get outside of what makes me successful. I've got my approach. I'm sure [pitching coach Mike Maddux] will do his work to exploit their holes. We'll go over that and go from there."
Lewis has fared better in the second half of the season after opposing batters hit .353 against him in the first half. Since the All-Star break, opponents are batting .250 against him and he has posted a 3.29 ERA, compared with a 6.54 ERA before the break.
Royals: Bullpen even better in second half
Kanas City's 'pen was solid in the first half of the season, posting a 3.62 ERA. But since the All-Star break, Royals relievers have been superb with a 2.54 ERA.
Right-hander Wade Davis, who has a 0.81 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings pitched, has only allowed one run dating back to April 26, owning a 22 2/3-scoreless innings streak.
"You get in situations, especially in a game like that, I didn't care whether I gave up those runs or not," Davis said after an outing against the A's last Thursday. "I wasn't trying to prevent those runs. I think that helps sometimes that you don't care. You always talk about [how] not caring about things helps you a lot, so maybe that helps the nerves part.
"I was just thinking, I give up a hit and so what? We'll get a couple popups or something."
Rangers: Rios fights through injuries
Alex Rios has been bothered by a sprained right ankle since twisting it on July 19 against the Blue Jays. He is also dealing with a bruised right thumb. The injury forced him to be scratched from Tuesday's game against the Marlins.
Rios did start Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the Rangers' 5-4 win over the Marlins, but he still has two nagging injuries that he has to deal with the rest of the season. Rios said he injured the thumb two weeks ago in Chicago and aggravated it on Sunday.
"You just have to go for it," Rios said. "Some of this stuff is going to be there quite a bit the rest of the way, so you have to play through it."
• Recent Royals acquisition Josh Willingham is 7-for-22 (.318) with three doubles, three home runs and five RBIs in his career against Lewis.
• The Royals are the only AL team the Rangers haven't faced this season. They go to Kansas City Sept. 1-3.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.