While Kansas City has bounced back impressively from an abysmal July to post a 13-8 record in August, Boston has stumbled in the season's fifth month, going just 6-15.
It's been great efforts by Royals starting pitchers that have keyed their turnaround.
Only the Nationals and Rays have racked up more August wins than the Royals, with just two American League clubs (Tampa Bay and Seattle) allowing fewer runs this month than Kansas City. The Royals' team ERA of 2.90 is also second only to Tampa Bay in the AL.
The starting pitching has certainly turned a corner, as the Royals had the worst team ERA in the AL during July (5.58). On the recent six-game homestand, the Royals went 5-1, powered by a pitching staff that surrendered just 13 runs. Royals starters went seven innings in each game but one, with Jeremy Guthrie's no-hit bid highlighting the stay on Sunday.
Looking to continue the trend on Friday at Fenway Park is Bruce Chen. The left-hander picked up his ninth win of the season in his last outing against the White Sox, allowing just two runs on five hits in six innings. His first win of the year came against the Red Sox, when he gave up three runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.
After going seven starts without a victory, Chen has won two of his last three. Royals manager Ned Yost said the veteran lefty is looking more like his old self of late.
"He's doing fine, he made good adjustments. He's doing a great job with it and the results have shown that," Yost said. "He's pitched great his last three or four times out, I thought.
"He was just getting to where his sole focus was just to pinpoint-command the ball instead of a little more attack, a little more focused on changing speeds and pitching."
Meanwhile, Jon Lester will be on the hill for the Red Sox, looking for his third straight win. He'll get some added help on the offensive side of the ball with the return of David Ortiz. The designated hitter is set to be activated from the 15-day disabled list on Friday barring any last-minute discomfort.
Lester has put together just his second winning streak of the season, combining to give up two runs on eight hits in his last two games.
On Saturday against the Yankees, he allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings of work for the win. Striking out four and allowing only two walks, Lester improved to 7-10 on the season with a 5.03 ERA.
"It's always gratifying to see the fruits of your labor, for lack of a better term. It's been a grinding season," Lester said after the game. "I said back a month or so again, I'm not giving up. I'll keep working hard and things will turn. The past handful of starts, I feel like they have."
Royals: Chen returns to Fenway Park
Chen was briefly a member of the Red Sox's pitching staff in 2003. He's 1-3 at Fenway in 11 career games (five starts), with a 7.00 ERA. The mark is so high in part to a rough outing last July, when he allowed a career-high 10 runs in four innings. He surrendered three home runs in that game, including a grand slam to Ortiz.
"I like it," Chen said of pitching at Fenway. "They usually have a very good team, the fans get into it and it's a good challenge."
Billy Butler's next home run will be No. 100 for the Royals' designated hitter. Only 11 players have hit 100 homers in a Royals uniform. He's currently four homers away from tying Mike Macfarlane for 11th on the all-time franchise list.
Red Sox: Crawford has successful surgery
Outfielder Carl Crawford underwent successful Tommy John surgery on his left elbow Thursday in Pensacola Fla. Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure. The team said it expects Crawford to make a full recovery.
The decision to send Crawford for surgery was officially announced Monday, after he missed most of the season because of the torn ulnar collateral ligament, and, earlier in the year, a surgically repaired left wrist.
"I think it became clear over the last few days that surgery was going to happen, it was just a question of when," general manager Ben Cherington said Monday. "We felt like after talking about it more this weekend and with Carl, the right thing to do was to get it taken care of now. Give Carl credit. He played through the injury and played pretty well. But the symptoms, it wasn't getting better. The symptoms were getting worse. We just decided not to ask him to keep going out there. We decided to take care of it now and he agreed with that."
After taking two of three from the Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium earlier this season, the Royals hold a 217-216 advantage in the all-time series between the two clubs.
Royals outfielder Alex Gordon has hit well at Fenway Park in his career. In 11 games, Gordon is batting .375 with seven doubles, a home run and five RBIs.
If Chen wins on Friday, it will be three straight seasons with at least 10 victories for the left-hander. He would become the first Royals lefty to post a third consecutive 10-win season since Charlie Leibrandt in 1988.
A trio of Red Sox hitters have had pretty good success, albeit in limited action, against Chen in their careers. Dustin Pedroia is 4-for-7 with a double and a home run, Nick Punto is 4-for-9 with a double and former Royal Scott Podsedink is 4-for-12 with a home run.