Coming off a series win against Minnesota, the Royals will look to keep rolling and hang onto their 1 1/2-game lead in the American League Central in a weekend series against the third-place Indians, who sit 5 1/2 back of the division leaders.
The season series has been up and down, with the Royals holding a 7-6 edge. The series will begin with a matchup between Jason Vargas and Danny Salazar.
When Vargas takes the mound for the Royals, they know they're going to get a lot of strikes and a good variety of well-positioned pitches. This lefty won't blow anyone away, but he can calmly hit his spots with deadly accuracy.
He's just one of five solid pitchers, all with different looks and approaches, that manager Ned Yost has in his rotation.
"[James] Shields, Vargas, [Jeremy] Guthrie are experienced guys," Yost said. "They know how to use a real solid defense behind them. [Danny] Duffy and [Yordano] Ventura are learning that also. But you've got power in the young guys and great command and competitiveness out of the veteran guys. It's a great mix.
"You are getting different looks every day. You've got a power left-hander in Duffy and you've got a command, control guy in Vargas. Shields is different than Ventura. They're all different looks and that makes it good."
Vargas is coming off a six-inning, two-run performance in which he worked around 11 hits and four walks.
His Friday night opponent, Salazar, has been strong over his last six starts, posting a 3-2 record, 3.27 ERA and .232 opponents' batting average. That marks a stark turnaround from his first eight starts of the season, when he went 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA and was demoted back to Triple-A.
"When Danny gets in, like, attack mode, he's pretty good," said Cleveland manager Terry Francona. "We've all seen where he'll work himself maybe in a bind, where he throws ball one, ball two, ball three, and then he'll get after it. If he can stay in that mode right from the get-go, that's when he's really [good]. Then, he's not guiding his slider -- he's throwing it. And then that makes his changeup better. Because he's got three really good pitches."
In fact, the entire Cleveland rotation has been rolling of late as the team has tried to stay in the Wild Card picture. The team is third in the Majors with a 2.87 ERA since the All-Star break and a 2.27 ERA over its last 16 games.
"They've been unbelievable and they've had a lot of pressure on them," Francona said. "We've played some close games, so they're pitching well and pitching out of some big situations in very close ballgames. It's not like we're having a six-run cushion every night and they're relaxing and being able to just go out there and make pitches. I think that's probably been the most impressive, that their best stretch has come probably when we needed it most."
Indians: Gomes back Friday?
Starting catcher Yan Gomes has been on Major League Baseball's seven-day concussion list since Saturday, but showed daily improvement during the Tribe's recent series in Chicago.
Francona noted that Gomes was on pace to be activated on Friday, but Cleveland will closely monitor his progress before making that decision.
"We'll reserve the right to [change our mind]," Francona said on Thursday. "Obviously, we'll get him on the flight tonight and we'll let him go through all his stuff today and then we'll probably even wait and let him get through pregame [Friday] just because there's no reason not to. And then we'll do something."
Royals: A wealth of 40-RBI guys
The Royals have an unusual distinction: They're the only Major League club that has eight players with at least 40 RBIs this season. Though the team lacks a huge offensive superstar, they've had well-balanced firepower.
"It's a good thing because everybody is contributing. That's what you want," Yost said. "We don't have any guys with huge numbers, but our record is pretty good and we've got guys that are getting the job done. So that needs to keep up through the month of September."
The high RBI guys are Alex Gordon with 61 and Omar Infante with 59. Also at 40 or more are Billy Butler, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas. Actually, there's a ninth 40-RBI guy in Josh Willingham, but the first 34 of his came for the Twins.
"It's a perfect blend, really," Yost said. "That's what you want. You want a lot of guys doing a bunch of little things to help you win ballgames."
Royals second baseman Infante has a chance of returning from a sore shoulder on Friday night. He's been out since Monday.
Caitlin Swieca is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.