Following the end to their longest win streak in 20 years, the Kansas City Royals are focused on keeping their hard-earned spot atop the AL Central.
With leading home run hitter Alex Gordon's status uncertain, the Royals look to maintain sole possession of first place in the division by earning a fifth consecutive home victory Friday night against the Seattle Mariners.Kansas City (39-33) batted .327, scored 69 runs and hit .429 with runners in scoring position during its first 10-game win streak since a string of 14 straight victories in 1994. The Royals had six hits and went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position in Thursday's 2-1 defeat to Detroit.Kansas City is a half-game ahead of the Tigers and in first place this late in the season for the first time since August 2003."This doesn't end anything. We've gone 10-1 in our last 11 games, and we're going home in first place. We just have to keep playing the way we are right now," said designated hitter Billy Butler, hitting .441 with 11 RBIs in his last nine games.Gordon, batting .346 with seven of his eight homers and 23 RBIs in his last 29 contests, did not play Thursday because of flu-like symptoms and his status is unknown for the Royals' return home from a seven-game trip. Nori Aoki played through an ailing groin Thursday after sitting out a 2-1 victory Wednesday.The Mariners (37-36) are hoping Hisashi Iwakuma (5-3, 2.59 ERA) can continue to pitch well despite his own ailment.The right-hander, 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA in three starts this month, had his neck tighten up prior to facing Texas on Sunday. He yielded just a solo homer and five other hits in eight innings of a 5-1 victory."I'm feeling much better," Iwakuma told the team's website Thursday through a translator. "I did my flat ground throwing yesterday and wasn't feeling anything. So that's good progress, and, hopefully, it turns out to be nothing (Friday)."Iwakuma has pitched eight scoreless innings and allowed four hits in each of his two career starts against Kansas City. He struck out seven in a 1-0 home victory May 8, and has a 2.49 ERA in winning all three road starts this season.Iwakuma's victory over Texas started a three-game win streak for Seattle, but the Mariners followed with two losses in San Diego. The Mariners, who fell 4-1 Thursday, tallied one run in each defeat after producing 16 runs during their streak.James Shields (8-3, 3.50) tries to keep Seattle's lineup quiet while seeking a sixth straight win and third in as many starts. After a stellar outing against the New York Yankees on June 8, the right-hander gave up 10 hits in six innings against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday but came away with a 6-3 road victory.Shields, 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in his last three home starts, is 4-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 13 career matchups with Seattle, the most recent July 20, 2012, with Tampa Bay.The Mariners' Robinson Cano, owner of a 20-game road hit streak, is batting .395 (32 for 81) against Shields in his career with four homers, eight doubles and two triples. That's his best average versus any of the 30 pitchers he's faced at least 30 times.Kyle Seager is 5 for 8 with two homers against Shields.Kansas City's Eric Hosmer is 3 for 6 lifetime against Iwakuma but 1 for 13 with nine runners left on base in his last three games.