Royals-Twins Preview

While they’ve had strong performances in the early going despite injuries, the Minnesota Twins’ bats have really come alive during a visit from the Kansas City Royals.

In manager Ron Gardenhire’s likely return to the dugout, the Twins will next try to power their way to their first series sweep over their AL Central rivals in nearly three years Sunday afternoon.

Josh Willingham is among the three hitters on the disabled list for Minnesota but that hasn’t stopped the rest of the Twins’ lineup from some stellar showings at the plate in 2014. They’ve scored six or more runs in six of their 11 games – and 10 in three games – and had at least nine hits in all but four contests.

Minnesota (5-6) has outscored Kansas City 17-2 in the first two games of this series. Joe Mauer’s first homer of the season – a three-run shot – highlighted a six-run second inning, and Brian Dozier went deep for the third time in four games in a 7-1 victory Saturday.

Jason Kubel also extended his hit streak to seven games and is batting .448 with six RBIs during that run.

"I feel like, one through nine, everybody today had at least three hard-hit balls each, and that’s a tell-tale sign an offense is clicking," Dozier said. ”Been doing that for the past week now, so everything is starting to click as a team right now."

The Twins lost 15 of 19 to the Royals (4-6) in 2013 and had dropped a series high-tying seven in a row at home before a 10-1 rout Friday.

Gardenhire missed the first two games of this series because he was at the funeral of Michael Hirschbeck, the 27-year-old son of former umpire John Hirschbeck.

Jason Vargas (1-0, 1.20 ERA) will try to slow down Minnesota while helping Kansas City avoid its first series sweep to the Twins since four straight losses June 2-5, 2011. The left-hander earned his first win with the Royals on Monday after allowing one solo homer in his second straight game.

He also gave up three other hits and one walk over eight innings in a 4-2 victory over Tampa Bay.

"His ability to command a baseball and change speeds was very evident today but he works in such a professional manner on the mound. He works quick. He keeps everybody in the game, manager Ned Yost told the team’s website. "He can pitch effectively in, he can pitch effectively away, change speeds and really keep a good offense off-balance."

Vargas gave up five runs and nine hits over 3 1-3 innings in only matchup against Minnesota last season, an 8-6 loss for the Los Angeles Angels on April 16 at Target Field. He’s 0-2 with a 12.38 ERA in his last two starts against the Twins after going 2-1 with a 3.93 ERA in his first six.

The Twins’ Kevin Correia (0-1, 6.17) pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out seven in his most recent outing against Kansas City on Aug. 27 but did not get enough support in a 6-1 loss. He went 0-2 with a 5.27 ERA in five matchups in 2013 after facing the Royals just once previously.

The right-hander struggled in an 8-3 loss to visiting Oakland on Monday after a solid season debut. He gave up six runs and nine hits over 5 2-3 innings to the A’s.

Mauer is 7 for 18 (.389) against Vargas.