The American League's best team travels to Kansas City on Thursday to face one of the AL Central's hottest clubs, as the Red Sox and Royals open a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
The Red Sox come in fresh off taking two of three games from the Astros, which kept them atop the competitive AL East.
"Where we are in the standings is a reflection of this group, it's a veteran group that has winning in their background," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "How we prepare today is pretty customary to the abilities of this team."
The Royals enter the opener with a 15-4 mark and six straight series wins since the All-Star break.
"Right now, everyone feels good about themselves for the most part when they step into the box," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Over the course of a long season, you have periods where you feel really good and you have periods when you don't. The key to good clubs is that you've got four or five guys going good at the same time and the other three guys that aren't going so good, you'll find a time when those three guys are going good and everybody is picking everybody up and that is what we've done so well lately."
It's uncertain how confident the Royals will feel when they step into the batter's box on Thursday against a pitcher who has dominated them unlike any other in Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.
Lester struggled in his last outing after three strong starts to end July, but it seems likely he'll regain his rhythm against the Royals. The lefty is 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA in nine career starts against Kansas City -- his lowest ERA against any AL club and the lowest among active Major Leaguers with at least 50 career innings against KC.
He has allowed one earned run or fewer in seven of his last nine starts against the Royals.
Kansas City counters with lefty Bruce Chen, who has been impressive since returning to the rotation. He's worked six innings in each of his four starts while sporting a 1.50 ERA.
Chen -- a former Red Sox pitcher who made five appearances and two starts for Boston in 2003 -- is 4-6 with a 5.59 ERA in 19 games (11 starts) against his former club.
Red Sox: Comeback kids
Boston comes to Kansas City confident that no lead is insurmountable, as the Red Sox have won six of their last seven by coming from behind -- including one in Houston when they trailed 5-0 and 7-3 during an eventual 15-10 win.
"Throughout the course of the game, there was never any extra sense of urgency, no panic. Guys truly believe if we stay with our overall approach, we have a chance to build an inning every innings," Farrell said. "So whether it's five runs in the ninth against Seattle or being down five here early last night, there's a relentlessness to the approach up and down the lineup. You catch one and put points on the board with one swing. Things have a way of mounting."
• Reliever Koji Uehara has allowed only one unearned run in 17 games since the start of July, spanning 18 1/3 innings. He has a 15-inning scoreless streak, one frame shy of his career-long of 16 (June 22-July 31, 2011).
• Shortstop Stephen Drew has an eight-game hitting streak (.464), while Mike Napoli is hitless in his last 15 at-bats.
Royals: Smith sent to Triple-A
With the return of left-hander Danny Duffy for the start in Wednesday's 5-2 win over the Twins, lefty reliever Will Smith was sent to Triple-A Omaha. The biggest reason for Smith's demotion was because he had pitched three innings on Tuesday. The Royals expect him to return to the big club relatively soon.
"He was the obvious candidate before which is why we had him throw three," Yost said. "We don't have a lot of versatility in terms of roster flexibility in the 'pen, but Will did a great job yesterday and he is going to be back."
• Royals pitchers have combined to hold opponents to a .156 average with runners in scoring position in their last 15 games.
• First baseman Eric Hosmer has a six-game hitting streak (.462).
• The clubs have split the all-time series (440 games).
• Wednesday's win pushed the Red Sox to a season-high 24 games above .500 for the first time since Sept. 16, 2011 (87-63).