Royals eye another series win vs. A's

( - The Kansas City Royals are gunning for their seventh straight series win when they wrap up a four-game set Thursday with the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals have taken two of the first three matchups in this battle of division leaders and haven't dropped a series since a three-game sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox from July 18-20.

After suffering a lopsided 11-3 defeat to the A's on Tuesday, the Royals responded with Wednesday's 3-0 victory behind Jason Vargas's three-hit shutout and four strikeouts. Vargas walked four batters and retired the final 23 batters of the game. It was his sixth career shutout.

The 97 pitches were the fewest thrown by a Royals hurler in a nine-inning complete game shutout since Tim Belcher delivered 90 on Sept. 2, 1996.

"He was pretty good and got back to being who he was," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Vargas. "He was dynamic and was in complete control."

Omar Infante hit a two-run homer and Salvador Perez supplied a sacrifice fly for the Royals, who have won nine of 10 and 17 of the last 21 games. Norichika Aoki finished with two hits and a run scored.

Kansas City, which has scored three or more runs in 11 straight games, is just a half-game ahead of Detroit for the AL Central lead and 5-1 on a seven-game homestand. It will hit the road for the next nine games against Minnesota, Colorado and Texas.

James Shields will try to pitch the Royals to a series win Thursday and duplicate what Vargas did last night. Shields is 11-6 with a 3.25 earned run average and tossed a four-hit shutout his last time out in a 5-0 win over San Francisco on Saturday, posting five K's and one walk in that one.

Shields has won back-to-back starts and recorded his ninth career shutout. The right-hander improved to 13-3 with a 2.49 ERA in the month of August since 2011 and has a 4-4 mark in 10 home starts. Shields has made 14 career starts against the A's and is 6-4 with a 3.78 ERA. He recently defeated Oakland by the bay on Aug. 3 with eight innings of two-run ball in a 4-2 decision.

Meanwhile, the AL West-leading Athletics have lost three of four games and sit 2 1/2 games in front of the LA Angels in the division.

Josh Donaldson, Jonny Gomes and Jed Lowrie provided the hits for an Oakland offense that failed to solve Vargas. In Tuesday's blowout of KC, Donaldson finished 3-for-4 with two homers, three runs scored and four RBI. Sam Fuld, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss combined for 10 hits in 20-hit attack.

It was different story last night, as Moss had the day off and Fuld and Reddick went a combined 0-for-7.

"At times we're going to get well pitched games against, and today was one of those," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "(Vargas) pitched a great game."

Scott Kazmir suffered the hard-luck loss in his pursuit of win No. 14 (13-5) and served up all three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

The Athletics are 7-6 in August and have posted a winning record in 14 straight months, the longest streak in Oakland history. They will next head to Atlanta to face the Braves for three games this weekend.

Aiming to pitch the A's to a series split Thursday will be right-hander Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija is 3-1 with a 3.08 earned run average in seven starts with the A's since coming over via trade with the Chicago Cubs. He was 2-7 in 17 starts with the Cubs, while Oakland has a 6-1 mark when he starts.

Samardzija threw six innings of two-run ball in a 9-4 win over the Twins on Saturday. It was Samardzija's shortest outing in an Oakland uniform and he has given up just two runs in each of his past two starts. Samardzija faced the Royals once in relief on June 25, 2011 in a 3-2 Cubs loss at Kauffman Stadium, as he permitted one run and one hit with two walks.

Kansas City took two of three against the A's from Aug. 1-3.