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KC@CLE: Santana racks up seven strikeouts vs. Tribe

The Royals have been able to stay in the American League Wild Card race by holding their own against the Tigers.

Prior to Friday night's 6-3 loss, Justin Verlander was 0-3 in five previous starts against Kansas City. The right-hander is now 16-5 all-time against the Royals.

Right-hander Ervin Santana will head to the mound at Comerica Park looking to even the series on Saturday night and he'll be opposed by Tigers right-hander Doug Fister.

Despite going 8-20 in May, the Royals have recorded four winning months and are right in the thick of the chase, 3 1/2 games behind the Rays, who hold the second Wild Card.

"We've known that the Royals went out and made some excellent moves, as we did and Cleveland did," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Everybody knew what they were seeing in the last couple years with some of these younger guys -- [Eric] Hosmer, [Mike] Moustakas, [Alex] Gordon, and their shortstop [Alcides Escobar] is a heck of a player. Everybody knew they were going to be good. Then, they went out and got a couple of veteran pitchers to solidify their staff. They're really good. They may be the most athletic team in the American League."

Santana is one veteran pitcher the Royals rely on, though they've lost each of his last three outings and five of his last six. He is 8-9 with a 3.35 ERA in 29 starts.

In his last start against the Indians on Monday, Santana gave up three earned runs, all on solo home runs. He also struck out seven without issuing a walk.

Fister faced the Royals last Sunday, taking the loss after giving up five earned runs on eight hits, including a three-run homer to Hosmer.

"It was right where he wants it," Fister said. "I was trying to get him to roll it over or pop it up. I left it middle of the plate too much -- trying to make him use the big part of the ballpark and that's what he did."

Fister also had a walk and four strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. He has alternated wins and losses in his last four starts dating to Aug 23.

Royals: Bonifacio rocking in the two-hole
Since taking over the No. 2 spot in the lineup on Aug. 23, Emilio Bonifacio has played 20 games, in which the Royals have gone 13-7.

He has a .316 average (25-for-79) average and 15 runs. He also has six of his 13 Royals steals in that span.

"He's added some dimensions to it, for sure," manager Ned Yost said. "Created more run-scoring opportunities for our run-producers, has really been swinging the bat great, getting on base, been a bit of a catalyst for us at the top of the order."

Tigers: Avila leading the way in September
Catcher Alex Avila is batting a team-high .429 this month. In his last five starts, he is 9-for-17 (.529) with three doubles, five runs and three RBIs.

"He's definitely swinging better, there's no question about that," manager Jim Leyland said. "Hopefully, he can keep that going. That would be a big help for us down toward the bottom [of the batting order]."

Avila has improved his season average to .220 and his 12 hits this month are the most he's had except for July (18) and April (13).

Worth noting
• The Royals hold a 9-8 edge in the season series against the Tigers.

• Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, nearing the end of his 50-game suspension, fielded fly balls in left field before Friday night's game and shagged balls during batting practice.

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