The team with the best record in the American League tries to earn a split with the Kansas City Royals as the Boston Red Sox close out a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Red Sox, currently three games ahead of Tampa Bay for first place in the American League East, dropped the first two games of the series on Thursday and Friday, but managed to bounce back with a 5-3 triumph yesterday in order to snap that two-game slide.

Boston welcomed back Will Middlebrooks from Triple-A Pawtucket on Saturday, after the team placed Brandon Snyder on the 15-day DL. The third baseman did not disappoint as he tallied two hits, a pair of RBI, and two runs scored at the bottom of the lineup for the Red Sox. Also having a strong outing was Jacoby Ellsbury, with two of his four hits going for doubles, driving in a pair and stealing as base as well.

"He's in a good place right now and has been for quite awhile," Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Ellsbury. "He's up there with a number of guys in the importance they have with this team. He's a pretty dynamic player."

Boston starter Felix Doubront lasted just four innings, allowing three runs on six hits and four walks, while fanning three. Brandon Workman, who recorded three of his four outs on strikeouts, was credited with the win, while Koji Uehara notched the save for the visitors.

Jeremy Guthrie was saddled with the loss for the Royals, who are now third in the AL Central, 8 1/2 games off the pace set by Detroit. The hurler permitted all five runs on 10 hits, striking out five and walking one, over the course of six innings.

Billy Butler posted a pair of doubles and three hits overall for the hosts, while Eric Hosmer picked up two hits and, like Butler, knocked in one run and scored once as the team had a three-game win streak come to an end in front of a rare sellout crowd.

"It was a good crowd," Butler said. "There was a lot of energy out there, they were helping us out. We just couldn't pull this one out, but we'll get 'em tomorrow."

Seeking his first win in close to a month, John Lackey heads to the hill for the visiting Sox this afternoon. The right-hander has been saddled with defeats in three of his last four outings, the most recent of those being on Monday in a 2-0 final versus Houston on the road.

Against one of the worst teams in baseball, Lackey allowed two runs on eight hits and walked a pair, while striking out 10 through six innings.

The Texas native has taken on the Royals a total of nine times in his career, resulting in a 3-3 mark and a 3.36 ERA .

As someone who spent the first seven years of his career in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays, KC pitcher James Shields is more than familiar with the Red Sox as he enters this contest. The right-hander already sports an 8-13 record with a 4.44 ERA in 24 career starts versus Boston, the most recent of those coming on April 20 when he failed to earn a decision after allowing just one run on four hits and striking out eight in six innings.

Earlier this week Shields was shelled by Minnesota at home, allowing seven runs on eight hits -- three home runs -- in just six innings of action. The defeat snapped a two-game win streak for the California native.

Despite the victory on Saturday Boston, which has won the season series in each of the last three years, is still just 14-13 versus the Central Division and trail the series this year by a count of 4-2.