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.