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CLE@KC: Vargas fans five over 7 2/3 strong innings

The Tigers and Royals begin a pivotal four-game series on Monday with Kansas City bearing down on Detroit in the American League Central.

The Royals come fresh off a three-game sweep of the White Sox in Chicago, and they now have claimed their last seven games and 10 of their last 12. They sit just 1 1/2 games behind the Tigers, who, after floundering at the start of the month, just took two of three against Minnesota.

At the start of the month, 6 1/2 games separated Kansas City and first-place Detroit. But the Tigers have scuffled to a 5-8 record in June, while the Royals have gone 10-3.

Kansas City's offense, much maligned at the beginning of the season, has propelled the hot streak. The Royals are averaging 6.4 runs per game in their seven-game win streak, and after a pair of home runs in a 6-3 win on Sunday, Kansas City has 14 home runs in its past 16 games.

"We're swinging the bats. We just couldn't get any consistency as an offensive unit [early in the season]. We'd get one guy hot and that's not enough to carry a team. Now, up and down the lineup, we're much more productive as a group," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We knew that it would come. We knew that you take a look at our guys and their career numbers, we knew that it would break out sooner or later and when it did we'd go on a nice run. And that's what we kept saying all along."

The Royals have yet to beat the Tigers in five games this season.

Jason Vargas (6-2, 3.30 ERA) will look to snap the streak on Monday in the series opener. He'll oppose Detroit's Justin Verlander (6-6, 4.61 ERA).

Royals: Yost doesn't see Detroit series as a showdown
With the Royals and Tigers moving in different directions heading into the four-game set, the Royals can take the division lead if they win three of four games from Detroit.

It's only June, and Royals manager Ned Yost simply wants his club's current run of good baseball to continue as long as possible. But do the Royals have something to prove since they have yet to beat the Tigers this season?

"I don't play that 'got something to prove' game," Yost said. "We come out and we play baseball every day as hard as we can, best we can. No matter what happens, there's a long season left.

"Do we want to really go in there hot like we are? Yeah. We're in the best position to go in there that we could be in, and we'll just take it from there."

Tigers: Verlander struggling
Detroit's ace has not been his usual self over his first 14 starts this season.

Verlander is coming off an 8-2 loss last Wednesday to the White Sox. He issued four free passes for the second straight game and allowed seven runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Verlander cruised into the sixth, having allowed just one run. But Chicago put a seven spot up in that inning and chased Verlander from the game.

"I need to cut down on those walks. That's what led to the big inning, obviously," Verlander said. "I think there were two, maybe three hard-hit balls the entire game. I'm missing bats, missing sweet spots. Just gotta not allow extra baserunners."

Verlander's 4.64 ERA is the highest he's posted since 2008. Perhaps most troubling is his plummeting K/9 ratio. It currently sits at 6.6, compared to a 8.4 career figure.

Worth noting:
• Billy Butler has owned Verlander in his career. The Royals designated hitter owns a .432 average (32-for-74) against the righty with two home runs and four doubles.

• Ian Kinsler has the most experience vs. Vargas of any Tiger. In 50 at-bats, Kinsler has collected 16 hits (.320 average), including two homers and six doubles.

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