Pirates open series vs. Royals with motivation for strong finish

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Other than setting the stage for 2019, the Pittsburgh Pirates might be the only team with something to play for in a series with the Kansas City Royals that is scheduled to begin Monday at PNC Park.

Not that the Pirates’ chance to end above .500 comes with great rewards compared with a strong finish.

“We want to play good baseball to the end,” Pittsburgh outfielder Corey Dickerson told AT&T Sportsnet, adding that the team wants to “have good vibes going into the offseason.”

The Royals will be starting their final road trip and the Pirates are opening their final homestand — although the weather forecast is not in their favor for Monday based on the fallout from the storm named Florence.

Pittsburgh (74-74) reached .500 with a 3-2 win Sunday at Milwaukee. The Pirates have won two in a row, three of four and eight in 11.

“To be able to get a series win against a division rival this late in the year, it’s good for us,” Pirates winning pitcher Trevor Williams said Sunday. “It’s good for us to carry this momentum into our final homestand.”

Kansas City (52-97) would have to be nearly flawless down the stretch to avoid 100 losses for the fifth time in team history and first time since 2006,

The Royals had won three in a row and five of six and were 14-6 since Aug. 24 before falling 9-6 on Sunday to Minnesota.

Pittsburgh is 12-5 in interleague play, second best in the major leagues.

Kansas City has not played in Pittsburgh since 2012.

In the series opener, Kansas City right-hander Brad Keller (8-6, 3.04 ERA) is scheduled to face Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove (6-9, 3.87 ERA).

Keller has been a bright spot for the Royals. He leads qualifying American League rookies in ERA and his name has circulated in Rookie of the Year discussions.

“I don’t really look at that,” Keller said of the award, according to “It’s cool to be in the talks. But the team winning is what matters. It’s cool, but it doesn’t matter much.”

He joined the Royals’ rotation on May 30 and is 7-5 with a 3.26 ERA since.

On Tuesday, Keller gave up a run and four hits, with six strikeouts and two walks, in seven innings of a 6-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. It was his sixth straight start giving up two runs or fewer.

The run he allowed was in the third, and he followed that by retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, the exception being a walk in the sixth.

“I felt like I didn’t have my best stuff, but I settled down and gave the team a chance to get the lead and then go deep into the game,” said Keller, who will face Pittsburgh for the first time.

Musgrove, who has never faced Kansas City, has a 3.65 ERA in nine starts and 56 1/3 innings since the All-Star break, and has lasted at least seven innings in half of his past 10 starts.

On Tuesday, he struck out eight but gave up four runs in six innings of an 11-5 loss at St. Louis.

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