Royals look to Vargas, coming off win over Tribe, in rubber game at Toronto

TORONTO — Something must give when left-handers J.A. Happ and Jason Vargas oppose each other Thursday.

It will be the rubber match of a three-game series at the Rogers Centre after the Kansas City Royals trounced the Toronto Blue Jays 15-5 on Wednesday to gain a split of the first two games.

Happ (9-10, 3.76 ERA) has won three starts in a row and has not lost since Aug. 25, a span of four starts.

Vargas (16-10, 4.19 ERA) has won two starts in a row, most notably Friday, when he was the winning pitcher as the Royals ended the Cleveland Indians’ 22-game winning streak.

The Blue Jays (71-81) also need a win Thursday to gain a split in their six-game season series against the Royals (74-77). Kansas City is within 3 1/2 games of the second American League wild-card spot, which is occupied by the Minnesota Twins.

Reaching the playoffs would be a difficult task for the Royals with the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers sitting between them and the Twins.

The Royals, who lost the opener to the Blue Jays 5-2 on Tuesday, had 18 hits Wednesday, including the 37th homer of the season by Mike Moustakas, which set a single-season club record. Steve Balboni hit 36 for Kansas City in 1985.

“We needed that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the offensive outburst.

And Moustakas needed that home run after going 15 games without one since hitting No. 36 on Sept. 1. He had hit only one homer in 28 games before Wednesday.

“This is a pretty good place to hit,” Moustakas said. “I knew I got it pretty good. It was a good feeling to see it go over the wall and kind of get that one off my chest. … It’s been a little frustrating, sometimes trying to do too much, sometimes trying to just kind of back down and figure it out.”

The Royals improved to 2-4 on an 11-game road trip.

The Blue Jays, who reached the American League Championship Series in 2015 and 2016, have four games left on their final homestand of the season, yet they maintain a sense of optimism for next season after struggling this season with injuries and underperformance.

Right-handed starter Marco Estrada emphasized that when he explained why he signed a one-year, $13 million contract extension for 2018 even though he was eligible to become a free agent in the offseason.

“I’m extremely optimistic about our chances next year,” Estrada said before the game Wednesday. “That was the main reason why I wanted to come back. I feel like things are about to happen for this team.”

He will join a rotation that includes Happ, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, who missed most of this season with a blister and other issues with his right middle finger. The fifth starter is still to be determined.

Happ, who struggled early in the season with elbow inflammation, is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his past four starts.

In one start this season against the Royals, he allowed four hits, no walks and one run in 6 2/3 innings and did not factor in the decision as Kansas City won 5-4 on June 23. In five career starts against the Royals, he is 2-2 with a 4.91 ERA.

In the 4-3 win over Cleveland on Friday, Vargas allowed five hits, three walks and three runs in five innings. He has three wins in six starts against the Indians this season. The Royals are 18-11 in his starts.

Vargas is 3-3 with a 4.96 ERA in nine career starts against the Blue Jays. He is 3-0 in his past four starts against Toronto. His last loss to the Blue Jays was on April 29, 2012, when he was with the Seattle Mariners.

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