CHICAGO -- Eight games remain this season between the slumping but contending Kansas City Royals and the rebuilding Chicago White Sox, beginning with Saturday's meeting at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Royals realize as much. They also know Chicago's organizational status guarantees no advantage in Kansas City's bid for an American League playoff berth.
"No, no, no. We are the furthest thing away from taking an opponent lightly," Royals catcher Drew Butera said. "They're playing really well right now. They swept Houston, right? Just because they're rebuilding doesn't mean they're a bad team. They've got a lot of talent over there, and we're not going to go in thinking we're going to come in and be easy wins."
White Sox right-hander Chris Beck called Chicago's three-game sweep of American League West-leading Houston this week a "nice little uplift, for sure." The vibes continued during Friday's series opener between the White Sox and Royals, with Chicago winning 6-3 behind a four-run, seventh-inning rally and a solid team debut from right-hander Reynaldo Lopez.
Chicago delivered sound starting pitching, slick defense and timely hitting against the Royals and during the Houstonseries, which culminated with a walk-off, extra-inning hit from prized prospect Yoan Moncada to win Thursday's series finale.
Was it a potential preview of coming attractions for the White Sox in future seasons? Perhaps. For his part, though, Beck has seen the team transition to a more consistent brand of baseball well before Houston came calling. Even suffering a four-game road sweep against American League East leader Boston last weekend offered bright spots to Beck entering the Astros series.
"We're not that far off from where we want to be," Beck said. "Each team is capable of winning. We stood toe-to-toe and swept one of the best lineups in baseball. We'll get to go there again in September, so, I mean, it'll be fun."
Chicago's visit to Houston from Sept. 19-21 precedes a three-game home series against the Royals from Sept. 22-24. The White Sox and Royals also are set to play in Kansas City from Sept. 11-13.
But first things first. On Saturday, White Sox right-hander James Shields (2-4, 6.03 ERA) will face Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy (4-8, 4.83 ERA).
Shields is 7-2 with a 4.02 ERA in 12 career starts against the Royals, with 65 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings. Shields spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons with Kansas City, winning 27 regular-season games while helping the club to the American League pennant in 2014.
Kennedy is 2-2 with a 4.70 ERA in seven career starts against the White Sox, with 31 strikeouts and seven home runs allowed in 38 1/3 innings.
Despite losing five in a row and 10 of their past 12 games overall, the Royals remain in the hunt in the jumbled AL Central and wild-card races. Success against the White Sox figures to be pivotal during the stretch run.
It starts with ignoring the same standings Kansas City is trying to climb -- at least to a degree.
"Oh, yeah. You don't take any team for granted, you know, because once you start taking teams for granted, that's when they sneak up on you and you lose games," Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said. "We're all big-league ballplayers. We all respect each other."