(AP) — Although the standings, or the results for that matter, don’t show it, the Chicago Cubs feel as if they’re making strides.

The visiting Cubs hope for a payoff starting Friday night when they face the Kansas City Royals, who look to avoid matching a season high with their sixth consecutive defeat.

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Inconsistent all season, Chicago (30-44) has dropped four of five but manager Mike Quade and his players feel they are close to turning the corner. The Cubs took three of four from Milwaukee last week and three of their last four defeats to the Yankees and White Sox have come by one run, including their last two contests.

“We’ve done some better things here this last seven to 10 days, but now we’ve got to take it to the next step and start finding a way to win more of these games,” Quade said. “There’s some things to like, but the final score is not one of them. We’re playing better, but we’re not playing good enough.

“We’ll go to Kansas City and see if we can’t improve.”

That might be the ideal place do so.

Visiting Kansas City (31-44) for the first time since 2000, Chicago is 9-6 all-time against the Royals and facing a club that has dropped seven of eight.

“I think everybody’s pulling for everybody now,” Cubs pitcher Doug Davis told the team’s official website after taking the loss in Wednesday’s 4-3 defeat to the White Sox. “It’s definitely different than a month ago.”

Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena has homered in three straight games for his longest streak since a six-game homer stretch last June. Pena has five home runs and eight RBIs his last seven games.

Teammate Starlin Castro has hit .414 with 10 RBIs his last 14 contests.

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Ryan Dempster (5-6, 5.46 ERA) looks to avoid a second straight loss for the Cubs on Friday.

The right-hander allowed one run, seven hits and two walks in 13 innings of his two previous starts, but gave up three runs, eight hits and walked a season-high six in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-3 loss to the Yankees on Saturday.

“He’s been a little bit inconsistent,” Quade said. “But here, lately, a lot of the outings where he’s not been as sharp, he’s still gotten through it.”

The right-hander makes his first appearance against the Royals since June 12, 2002, while with Florida.

Kansas City counters with veteran Bruce Chen (4-1, 3.59), who comes off the disabled list from a lat strain to make his first start since May 5 when he allowed a run in seven innings of a 9-1 win over Baltimore.

The left-hander is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in four starts against the Cubs, but has not faced them as a starter since 2001 with Philadelphia.

Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur is a lifetime .417 hitter with three doubles versus Dempster, but 5 for 42 (.119) with 12 strikeouts his last 11 games. He had one of the Royals’ six hits in Thursday’s 5-3 loss to Arizona.

“We’re close, we’re really close,” manager Ned Yost told the Royals’ official website. “But we need somebody to get hot.”

Alex Gordon could be that guy, batting .333 with two homers and 10 RBIs during a 10-game hitting streak.

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