Preview: Royals eye split with Twins in Sunday’s finale

After a rare offensive outburst a day
earlier, the Kansas City Royals’ bats seemingly came back to Earth on
Saturday, stymied by a pitcher in his big league debut.

On Sunday, they’ll hope Ervin Santana –
who has dominated Minnesota in recent years – can give the Twins a dose
of their own medicine in the series finale at Target Field.

Kansas City (37-41) connected for a
season-high four homers in Friday’s 9-3 win, then took its seventh loss
in 10 games in a 6-2 defeat Saturday. Minnesota (36-41) starter Kyle
Gibson held them in check over six innings, marking the eighth time in
11 contests the Royals have been held to three runs or fewer.

“We got kind of put in a hole early
there,” Eric Hosmer said of his club, which trailed 5-0 after the first
and came up empty handed in a bases-loaded situation in the eighth. “We
were trying to inch back, and inch back. Just fell short.”

They’ll turn to Santana (5-5, 2.74
ERA), who has been one of baseball’s best pitchers this month. His 1.56
ERA in June leads the majors as he’s limited opponents to 22 hits and
one home run over 34 2/3 innings in five starts. However, the
right-hander wasn’t as sharp in last start, allowing three runs in six
innings before leaving without a decision in a 4-3 loss to Atlanta on
Tuesday.

Sunday should provide Santana a good
opportunity to get back on track, though, as he’s won his last three
starts against the Twins while yielding four runs over 24 1/3 innings.
The most recent – Santana’s home debut with Kansas City – saw him toss
eight innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 victory April 8.

Scoring the lone run for Minnesota in
that game was Joe Mauer, who could again be the Twins’ best chance for
offense against Santana. His .467 average (14 for 30) off Santana is the
second highest by any player with 20 or more at-bats against him.
However, Mauer is hitless in three straight games – going 0 for 10 – for
the first time since an 0-for-19 skid over five contests in late April.

The Twins had scored three runs or
fewer in four straight games – three losses – before Saturday, when
Trevor Plouffe and Justin Morneau combined to drive in five runs.
Plouffe’s two-run homer extended the second-longest hitting streak of
his career to 11 games. The .273 hitter is 13 for 43 (.302) during the
streak, which began two games after he returned from a concussion and
strained left calf that sidelined him for three weeks.

Minnesota will start Kevin Correia
(6-5, 3.82), who has been strong over his last three starts, going 1-1
with a 2.55 ERA. The loss came in his last outing, a 4-2 defeat at Miami
on Tuesday. Correia threw five scoreless innings before loading the
bases and yielding a two-run single in the sixth, his final inning.

“I felt I made one bad pitch that inning and that was enough to give up a couple of runs,” he said.”

The right-hander faced off with Santana on April 8, giving up three runs in 7 1/3 innings.