Royals-Rays Preview

Edinson Volquez will try to steady his personal bumpy ride Friday night while keeping the Kansas City Royals on the fast track up.

With a very comfortable lead in the AL Central, the Royals will hit the road to try to hinder the wild-card chances of the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game series.

The Royals (78-49) pushed their division lead to 13 games Thursday with a 5-3 victory over Baltimore, their fifth win in six tries.

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Volquez hasn't been as consistent, alternating quality and poor starts his last four times out.

Volquez (11-7, 3.40 ERA) allowed one run in seven innings against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 7, dropping his ERA to 3.11, the lowest it had been since June. But he's gone back and forth in his last three, allowing five earned runs in seven innings against Detroit on Aug. 12, one run in six innings against Cincinnati on Aug. 18, and six over 6 2-3 against Boston on Sunday.

He hasn't received a decision in the last two, but Kansas City rallied to win both games.

Volquez is 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in four starts against the Rays, tossing five strong innings before leaving without a decision in a 7-1 victory July 7.

After Johnny Cueto struggled in Wednesday's 8-5 loss, Kansas City rode a strong performance from Yordano Ventura to a 5-3 victory Thursday. Mike Moustakas had three hits and two RBIs and went 8 for 14 in the series with a pair of homers, two doubles and seven RBIs. He's batting .452 with four home runs and 12 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak.

"Moose has had clutch hits, big hits," manager Ned Yost told MLB's official website. "He's starting rallies, finishing rallies. He's just been really key for us."

Moustakas missed a four-game series against the Rays while on the bereavement list in July. Kansas City swept that set and has won 10 of 12 in the series.

Tampa Bay's Erasmo Ramirez will try to reverse that trend. He's 5-3 with a 2.60 ERA in nine starts at Tropicana Field this season, holding opponents to a .208 batting average.

Ramirez (10-4, 3.66) was away from home his last two times out and gave up six runs and 14 hits in 12 2-3 innings while winning his only decision at Houston on Aug. 17.

The right-hander will try to help the Rays (63-64) return to .500 after they ended a three-game skid with Thursday's 5-4 comeback win over Minnesota. Tampa Bay is 2 1/2 games behind Texas for the second wild card.

Ramirez will be asked to spell a bullpen that handled the final 4 2-3 innings.

''We needed that one,'' said Rays manager Kevin Cash. ''The bullpen was just outstanding. Really came in and gave us a big boost.''

Ben Zobrist spent the first nine seasons of his career with Tampa Bay and will make his first trip back to Tropicana Field since the Rays dealt him to Oakland in the offseason. Zobrist is 4 for 9 lifetime against Ramirez with two home runs.

Tampa Bay placed outfielder Desmond Jennings on the 15-day disabled list Thursday due to a bruised left knee suffered on Tuesday. He had hit .353 in 10 games since returning from the DL after having surgery on the same knee.