Royals turn to Kennedy against Twins

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins’ big surge in the American League wild-card standings has been driven by a relentless offense that has gotten contributions across the board.

Kansas City’s Ian Kennedy is the next pitcher up to try and stop the onslaught after two inexperienced pitchers led to a long night for the Royals on Saturday.

Kennedy (4-10, 5.47 ERA) starts the series finale on Sunday against Minnesota. The Twins have All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana (14-7 3.27) on the mound.

The pitching matchup looks on paper like another lopsided encounter.

Minnesota pounded Kansas City 17-0 on Saturday after the Royals took the series opener by holding on to a 7-6 score late as the Twins rallied.

Kansas City manager Ned Yost thought Saturday’s outcome was solely on one area, despite the Royals being shut out for the 15th time this season.

“No, I feel like we didn’t pitch well tonight,” Yost said in response to being asked about if he felt Saturday’s loss was an accumulation of injuries taking their toll on the team.

Kennedy has stayed healthy but been ineffective recently. In August, the right-hander lost four of his six starts with a 9.57 ERA. He’s coming off a loss at Tampa Bay in which he gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings.

“The first two innings felt really good,” Kennedy said. “The last inning, I don’t know what happened there. I missed locations. I missed off-speed pitches, a bad changeup to (Lucas) Duda, a (Logan Morrison) double off the wall that could have been a homer that was on a curveball and the one to (Wilson) Ramos was on a curveball.”

Missing against Minnesota could be dangerous right now. The Twins have outscored opponents 200-124 since Aug. 2, turning a minus-73 run differential to a plus-1 after Sunday’s explosion.

“Our at-bats started getting better and better each and every game, and the veteran guys, they just try to tell us to take one thing a day to try to help us out a little bit better,” said outfielder Byron Buxton, who had three hits in his return to the lineup from a bone contusion in his hand. “That’s kind of what we’ve done, and we’ve stuck to having those quality at-bats and picking each other up.”

While Brian Dozier made a name for himself with a 40-homer season last year, Joe Mauer has long been considered a special hitter before injuries took their toll and Buxton was a top prospect, many outside of Minnesota would have trouble listing the team’s starters.

But an across-the-board contribution has included big months from shortstop Jorge Polanco, outfielder Eddie Rosario and others. Eduardo Escobar, filling in at third base for injured slugger Miguel Sano, hit two homers and had a triple on Saturday while driving in six runs.

“It can be a little bit contagious,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of the offense. “By more guys contributing, it takes a little bit of a pressure off any one guy to be the guy. …

“I can’t really say that I saw this kind of trend coming, but we all know the growth of young players and when they’re going to spurt, you just look forward to it when a bunch of them do it together.”

Mauer has hit safely in 11 straight games after Saturday’s 4-for-4 effort. He has hit .455 during the streak and is at a season-high .303. It’s the first time he has hit at least .300 since May 11, 2016, and this late in a season since the end of the 2013 season when a concussion shortened his season with a .324 average.

“It’s a nice little thing, but like I said it’s all about having good at-bats and I like the way we’re playing right now with the next guy in line and trying not to do too much,” Mauer said. “I guess that’s a nice little thing for me personally, but we’re doing a lot of other good things that we should be talking about.”

Mauer has just three hits in 19 career at-bats against Kennedy, who is 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA in his career against the Twins.

Santana went 3-0 in six August starts with a 2.95 ERA. He has faced the Royals twice this season, allowing six earned runs in 12 1/3 innings. Santana is 6-10 with a 4.59 ERA in his career against his former team.

Minnesota enters Sunday in control of the second wild card in the American League and just a game behind the New York Yankees for the first wild card. Kansas City is 4 1/2 games behind the Twins and feeling the pressure.

“It’s just frustration,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s all it is. We’re in a tough spot right now. We’re obviously pretty late in the season where we can’t afford to give up any games. They just jumped on us early today and there’s really no turning back after that first inning.”