The American League Central-leading Royals haven't been in first place this late in a season since 2003, when they were atop the division on Aug. 29. But they know that in order to finish the job and secure their first playoff berth since 1985, they'll need to beat the teams they're supposed to beat down the stretch.
Twenty-four of Kansas City's final 40 games are against teams currently at or below .500, including Sunday's opponent, the Twins.
Having won 19 of their last 24 games, the Royals, who lead the second-place Tigers by a half-game, turn to right-hander Jeremy Guthrie on Sunday at Target Field looking to get back in the win column after dropping a 4-1 decision on Saturday.
Guthrie has enjoyed success against Minnesota throughout his career, going 8-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 14 appearances (12 starts) against the Twins. Four of those eight career wins came last season alone, when Guthrie posted a 2.38 ERA in five starts against Minnesota, including a shutout on Aug. 5.
Guthrie has also fared well at Target Field, where he is 3-1 with a 2.77 ERA in four career starts.
The right-hander hopes that success continues and he can right the ship after getting roughed up for six runs (four earned) on 11 hits over 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the A's on Tuesday. That came after he tossed a complete game in a 6-2 win over the D-backs on Aug. 7.
"I didn't make very good pitches with two strikes, especially early in the game," Guthrie said after Tuesday's loss. "I gave them a couple of 0-2 hits, 1-2 hits, and I didn't think I mixed it up well enough to keep them off-balance. It looked like they were sitting on fastball early in the count and [they] got a lot of strikes and were able to put it in play for hits."
Left-hander Tommy Milone will make his second start in a Minnesota uniform. After being acquired from the A's at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Milone made his Twins debut last Monday against the Astros in Houston. He allowed two runs on eight hits while walking three and fanning five over six innings in a no-decision.
"I was a little amped up at the beginning. I thought they were doing a good job of getting on base and forcing the issue," Milone said after the 4-2 win. "I told myself to settle down and make good pitches, and I felt I was able to."
Like Guthrie, Milone has enjoyed success against his opponent on Sunday. In four career starts against Kansas City, the southpaw is 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA.
Royals: Perez to be on duty
It's an afternoon game after a Saturday night game, but there'll be no day off for All-Star catcher Salvador Perez.
"I just gave him a day off two days ago," manager Ned Yost said, referring to Thursday afternoon's game against the A's.
Backup Erik Kratz started that game, although Perez caught the last inning after Kratz was removed for a pinch-runner.
Perez started his 106th game (of 122) behind the plate on Saturday night and Yost has no concern about his catcher tiring down the stretch.
"No, he's strong," Yost said. "We communicate all the time."
Twins: Santana to get more time at short
For the first time since June 25, Danny Santana got the start at shortstop on Saturday night against the Royals, giving regular shortstop Eduardo Escobar a day off. Santana had made 25 consecutive starts in center field before that because of a lack of depth at the position.
But since Minnesota claimed center fielder Jordan Schafer off waivers from the Braves, that opened up an opportunity to play Santana more often at his natural position of shortstop.
"We're going to play it day by day, but I just wanted to get him back in the infield," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I've said it all along that he's a shortstop. It's no knock on Escobar. He's playing great baseball, swinging the bat, the whole package. But I also want to see Schafer in center field because he's a center fielder. So it allows us to move people around and get Santana at shortstop."
• Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar is hitting .345 (10-for-29) with four doubles, a triple and seven RBIs at Target Field this year.
• Kansas City slugger Billy Butler is 5-for-13 (.385) in his career against Milone.
• Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, who had his 16-game hitting streak snapped on Saturday, is 8-for-24 (.333) with two home runs and three RBIs in his career against Guthrie. Catcher Kurt Suzuki is 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs against the right-hander.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.