Royals-Rangers preview

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals are both looking to steady the ship going into a four-game series that opens Thursday night at Globe Life Park.

The American League West-leading Rangers (58-44) have seen what was once a 10-game division lead dwindle to 2 1/2 games thanks to a 7-17 stretch.

The defending World Series champion Royals (49-51) are in fourth place in the AL Central.

The pitching matchup in the opener is a repeat of last Saturday's duel in Kansas City, which the Rangers won 7-4. Texas would love to get a repeat performance out of ace Cole Hamels, who picked up the win after allowing one run (none earned) and five hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The 32-year-old lefty, 11-2 with a 2.87 ERA, is among the league leaders in several major categories, including wins, ERA and strikeouts.

Hamels is facing Yordano Ventura (6-8, 4.99 ERA) again. The right-hander set down the first nine hitters he faced before a walk and a two-run homer by Jurickson Profar started the fourth. Ventura took the loss after being charged with three runs and three hits in five innings with four walks and five strikeouts.

Hamels owns the last three and five of the last six wins by a Texas starting pitcher. That's why the Rangers made the first of what could be several trades to upgrade the pitching staff with Wednesday's deal to land starter Lucas Harrell and reliever Dario Alvarez from Atlanta.

"You look at both pitchers we acquired, they can help our ballclub, fill a role and add depth," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "With Lucas, he is a guy who is throwing the ball well. He has been around a little bit, had some experience and he has been on a little bit of a roll."

Harrell, 31, fills an immediate need in the rotation, with his turn coming up Sunday against the Royals. Harrell has gone 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA in five starts for the Braves this season.

"He has the capability of keeping us in the ballgame," manager Jeff Banister said.

Alvarez is a hard-throwing lefty with 3.00 ERA with 28 strikeouts and five walks in 15 innings. He has held opponents to a .200 batting average.

The Rangers did give up highly-regarded power prospect Travis Demeritte. The 21-year-old infielder was hitting .272 with 25 home runs in 88 games for High-Class A High Desert.

Daniels added the Rangers aren't necessarily done with the trade deadline looming Monday. While the search for arms tops the list, upgrading other facets of the club could be on the table.

"I wouldn't rule anything out," Daniels said, "but pitching is our priority."

Texas took the last two of three last weekend in Kansas City and it 6-4 against the Royals since the start of 2015. The teams split four games in Arlington in 2015, but the Rangers are just 5-7 against Kansas City at Globe Life Park since start of 2012.

Royals manager Ned Yost held a team meeting before Wednesday's 7-5 win over the Los Angeles Angels to try to ease concerns for a club that's fading in the standings and is inundated with trade rumors.

The get-together was quick -- Yost said about two minutes -- and to the point.

"We know what we have ahead of us, we've known the trials that we've been through in the past and we've known that we've had our backs against the wall before," he told "You know that you always come out of it. Just go out, enjoy your teammates and play the game like you did when you were 12 years old. That's what we do so well when we're successful, is we just go out and play hard and have fun doing it. So sometimes you just take a step back and relax a little bit and inch your way out."