CHICAGO — No team could have more to say than the Royals about who wins the American League Central.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Friday marked the start of a 25-game closing stretch that includes six games against first-place Chicago and seven against second-place Detroit. The White Sox entered the weekend with a one-game lead over the Tigers.
I think it adds something for us, left fielder Alex Gordon said. It elevates things to a playoff atmosphere and gives some of our younger guys that experience. It helped for me (in 2009) when we played Minnesota at the end of the year.
The Twins entered that three-game series trailing first-place Detroit by one game. They swept the Royals two close games and a blowout and finished tied with the Tigers. Minnesota then won the division title in a one-game playoff.
There were sellout crowds, Gordon recalled, and it had that energy and atmosphere. It definitely gave me a lot of energy. I think it will help the guys to experience that.
Not everyone agrees.
Designated hitter Billy Butler said games against contenders are no different than games against also-rans and the Royals still have three games left against Minnesota and six against Cleveland.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is one of the few current Royals who has, while playing for the Braves and Rangers, experienced a pennant race. He said filling the role of a spoiler isnt the same dynamic but still adds zest to the seasons closing weeks.
That will be fun for us, Francoeur said. A lot of times in September think back to last September, we really didnt play anybody who was in a pennant race. The Tigers had the division wrapped up. Everyone else was just kind of limping toward the line.
46 and counting
Alex Gordon got his 46th double of the season with a two-out drive to left field in the third inning against White Sox starter Francisco Liriano.
No other player in either league entered Friday with more than 43 doubles.
Gordon also set a career-high with No. 46 one more than last season. He needs eight more doubles in the seasons final 24 games to match Hal McRaes club-record 54 in 1982.
Outfielder David Lough didnt start Friday but was available for duty after passing a series of pregame tests on his strained right hamstring.
Lough took batting practice and ran the bases during early work. A rainstorm forced the Royals to hold their regular pre-game batting practice in the indoor cages at U.S. Cellular Field.
Lough suffered the injury while running to first base in the ninth inning of Wednesdays 7-6 loss to Texas at Kauffman Stadium. He hit a grounder to first base with one out and a runner on first.
I think I ran faster than Ive ever run to first base, Lough said. I really wanted to avoid that double play. I think (the strain) happened on my last step.
Bueno on hold
Lefty reliever Francisley Bueno is still awaiting a resolution from Major League Baseball on his appeal of a three-game suspension stemming from a 2008 incident while pitching for Atlanta.
We need to get to it, manager Ned Yost said.
Bueno, 31, returned to the minors in 2008 before MLB issued a ruling on his appeal. The case was held in abeyance until he returned to the majors, which didnt happen until this year when the Royals promoted him on June 23 from Class AAA Omaha.
The Royals optioned Bueno back to Omaha on June 26. He also spent July 18-21 in the majors before returning again to Omaha. His latest big-league tour began with an Aug. 6 recall that coincided with the waiver-claim loss of José Mijares to San Francisco.
The 2008 suspension stemmed from a pitch that nearly hit Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano on the chin in apparent retaliation for what the Braves believed to be showboating by Soriano earlier in the game.
Lefty Will Smith spent his last night on bullpen duty Friday before tapering his work schedule to a projected start Tuesday at Minnesota. The Royals skipped Smith for one turn when realigning their rotation after last Saturdays doubleheader against the Twins.
Smith shifted to the bullpen to serve as an extra arm but before Friday wasnt called on as a reliever. He is 4-7 with a 5.45 ERA in 12 big-league starts.
Reinserting Smith after an open date Monday means the four other starters will all follow with an extra day of rest.
Class A Wilmington bowed out of the Carolina League playoffs Friday in a 2-1 loss at Lynchburg in the decisive game of a best-of-three series.
The Blue Rocks took a 1-0 lead in the third inning on a homer by Geulin Beltre, but Lynchburg, a Braves affiliate, got homers in the fourth by Andrelton Simmons against Leondy Perez and in the eighth by Braeden Schlehuber against Robinson Yambati.
• Class AAA Omaha continued its best-of-five series in the Pacific Coast League playoffs Friday at Albuquerque, a Dodgers affiliate. The two teams split the first two games in Omaha. The fourth game is tonight in Albuquerque. A fifth game, if necessary, is Sunday in Albuquerque.