Orioles-Royals Preview

The Kansas City Royals look poised to return to the AL Championship Series with the league's best record and a 12 1/2-game lead in the Central.

The Baltimore Orioles have a much more difficult path to get back into position to play for the pennant.

These teams meet for the first time since last year's playoffs when they open a four-game series Monday night at Kauffman Stadium.

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Kansas City (75-48) swept Baltimore (62-61) in the 2014 ALCS, with the four games decided by six runs. Lorenzo Cain was 8 for 15 with five runs in that series and Eric Hosmer went 6 for 15, while the Royals' bullpen posted a 1.13 ERA.

Kansas City looks even more powerful this year as it returns home after a 4-2 trip that ended with Sunday's 8-6 victory over Boston. Hosmer delivered a tying two-run, two-out single in the ninth inning and Mike Moustakas followed with a go-ahead, two-run double.

''There were some great at-bats,'' manager Ned Yost said. ''It was an awesome ninth inning for us. Just a succession of great at-bat after great at-bat.''

Baltimore is part of the crowded wild-card race and will try to avoid its third five-game slide. The Orioles start a seven-game trip after being swept by Minnesota in four, with the final three decided by one run.

"Nobody's going to feel sorry for you and we all know that," manager Buck Showalter said.

Baltimore is fourth in the majors with 161 homers, though Gerardo Parra was the only Oriole to go deep in the Twins series.

''We lost four, so obviously where we are right now, we want to play better and win some of these games, especially these one-run games where we feel normally we have a good shot and we pull those out,'' closer Zach Britton said. ''So, (it's) frustrating.''

Kansas City is last in the AL with 97 home runs, with its offensive success predicated on the second-best batting average in the league at .269. The Royals had 26 hits in the final two games in Boston.

Catcher Salvador Perez will likely be back in the Kansas City lineup after backup Drew Butera started Sunday.

Baltimore's Ubaldo Jimenez (9-7, 3.97 ERA) went 0-2 with a 7.36 ERA in two regular-season starts against the Royals last year and did not face them in the postseason. Hosmer hits .346 against him and Cain is 6 for 14, with Moustakas and Alcides Escobar each going 4 for 28 in the matchup.

Jimenez has failed to last past the fifth inning in back-to-back starts. In his last four road outings, he has sandwiched scoreless efforts around two in which he allowed 14 runs over seven total innings.

He'll be opposed by fellow right-hander Kris Medlen (1-0, 2.51), who will make his first Royals start after seven appearances in the bullpen. Medlen is taking the place of Jeremy Guthrie, who has been demoted to the bullpen after posting a 7.17 ERA in his last four starts.

"It gives us another option (for the postseason) to see what direction we want to go," Yost told MLB's official website. "Obviously there's been with Jeremy some production (issues), but it's more about finding out about Medlen."

Medlen went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 32 games - 31 starts - for Atlanta last year. He has never started against Baltimore.

Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is reportedly headed to the disabled list with a groin injury. Outfielder Steve Pearce, out since July 18 with a left oblique strain, could be activated Monday. He played nine innings in his rehab start for Double-A Bowie.