A.J. Burnett is entering the second half for the final time with easily the best ERA he’s ever had at this point in the season.
The 38-year-old’s consistency has been remarkable, and he can match his 2014 win total with a victory Monday night as the Pittsburgh Pirates visit a Kansas City Royals team that’s racking up wins faster than all but one team in franchise history.
Burnett (7-3, 2.11 ERA), who went 8-18 a season ago with Philadelphia, gave up three runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings of a 6-5, 14-inning home win over St. Louis on July 11. Since allowing four earned runs in consecutive starts from May 28-June 2, he’s 1-2 with a 1.99 ERA in seven starts, though he’s received at most a run of support in five of those.
The right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA in his last six starts against Kansas City, but he’s 4-2 with a 5.21 ERA in eight starts in AL parks since returning to the NL in 2012.
Kansas City (55-35) has won four of five after beating Chris Sale in Sunday’s 4-1 road victory over the Chicago White Sox. The Royals had 30 hits in the last two games of the series and are batting .315 in 11 games as part of a 10-2 span. Lorenzo Cain has homered in consecutive games while batting .473 with four homers and 12 RBIs in his last 14, and Alcides Escobar is batting .397 in his last 14.
The Royals are 20 games over .500 for the first time since concluding the 1989 season at 92-70, and only the 1976 team got to 20 over faster. That team did it in 80 and went on to with the AL West.
Pittsburgh (53-38) was two games away from reaching the same mark prior to being swept in three games in Milwaukee, including Sunday’s 6-1 loss. They lost Jordy Mercer to a leg injury after the shortstop needed to be carted off the field following a collision, and Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez were held out of the lineup. Alvarez is in a 2-for-21 slump.
"The season has a long way to go," manager Clint Hurdle said in regard to a rough start to the second half. "We’ll look forward to starting the series there (Kansas City)."
They’ll try to straighten things out against Yordano Ventura.
Ventura (4-6, 4.73) has totaled 11 innings in his last three starts, though he earned the decision in an 8-3 home victory over Tampa Bay on July 9. The right-hander was pitching for the first time in nearly a month after a disabled-list stint due to an elbow issue that caused numbness in his hand, and he gave up three runs and four hits with three walks in five innings, admitting he’s not yet back to normal.
"I’m not 100 percent," Ventura told MLB’s official website.
If he again has a short outing, the Royals could turn to Kris Medlen, who came off the DL on Monday in his return from a second major elbow surgery. Medlen, who last pitched in the majors in 2013 with Atlanta, will join the bullpen as the long man for now.
The Pirates are seeking their first series win in Kansas City, having gone 2-6 there since the start of interleague play. They’ve won five of the last six meetings and three straight, but those have all come in Pittsburgh. They’ve gone 10-5 against the AL this season with wins in nine of the last 10 and five straight victories in AL parks.
Pittsburgh’s 36-19 interleague record since the start of 2013 trails only Oakland (31-16). Kansas City ranks third at 33-20.