Madison Bumgarner turned in one of the best efforts of his career in his last start, a performance that might be harder to come by against his next opponent.
The San Francisco left-hander will attempt to tie the major league lead for wins Friday night as the visiting Giants open a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals, baseball’s hottest team.
Completing a three-game sweep in Arizona with Thursday’s 6-2 win, Kansas City (60-53) has won four straight and is a major league-best 12-3 since July 22. After being swept by Boston after the All-Star break, it has won five straight series.
The Royals have also gone 11-4 against the NL this season and find themselves in possession of the AL’s second wild-card spot and within 2 1/2 games of Detroit for the AL Central lead.
"Obviously we’re playing well and that’s all we can control," left fielder Alex Gordon said. "We haven’t really played Detroit in a while so we’re not really concerned where they’re at right now. We’re just trying to take care of our business and go from there."
Bumgarner (13-8, 3.21 ERA) threw his second career shutout and fourth complete game while allowing two hits and striking out 10 in Sunday’s 9-0 victory over the New York Mets.
"Fastball command is what set up that whole game for us," Bumgarner said. "When you’re feeling good on days like today, you can go after guys."
It came on the road, sticking with a season-long trend. He’s won three straight away from AT&T Park to improve to 9-2 with a 1.58 ERA. The win total is tied for the big league lead while the ERA trails only Adam Wainwright and Cole Hamels.
The 25-year-old has been hit or miss in 10 interleague starts, going 1-4 with an 8.67 ERA in five and 3-0 with a 1.24 ERA in the other five. Royals right fielder Nori Aoki is 0 for 11 against Bumgarner.
The Giants (62-53) dropped two of three in Milwaukee on their middle stop of a 10-game road trip.
Thursday’s 3-1 loss soured the return of Angel Pagan, who led off and went 2 for 5. The center fielder had been out since June 14 with back inflammation, and San Francisco went 19-26 without him.
"The good thing is, we’re still in the fight," Pagan told MLB’s official website. "This is the time for us to get on a roll and finish strong."
Runs haven’t come easily lately against the Royals, who have posted a 2.72 ERA over 15 games. Jason Vargas, however, started the most recent loss.
Vargas (8-5, 3.69) has lost consecutive starts and seen his ERA climb to its highest point since entering a May 25 start at 3.76. The left-hander, who came off the disabled list to make his first start since undergoing an appendectomy on July 9, matched a season high with seven earned runs allowed in Saturday’s 8-3 loss in Oakland.
The damage was contained to one inning, which the team saw beyond.
"It was tough not to have him in the rotation for a couple starts," Gordon said. "To see him come back and not rusty at all was good to see. He just had that one big inning."
Vargas is 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts against San Francisco. When pitching against NL teams in AL parks, he’s 6-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 12 starts. Pagan is 3 for 6 with a home run off the 31-year-old.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt missed Thursday’s game, a day after leaving in the eighth inning. The club activated Belt from the disabled list Saturday after missing 12 games due to a concussion. He plans to see a doctor on Friday.