MINNEAPOLIS — The Kansas City Royals head into their three-game series with the Minnesota Twins looking more and more like the team that won its first World Series in three decades last season.
The Twins enter looking a lot like the team that was among the worst in baseball over the season's first three months.
In a weird quirk in the schedule, the series between the Central Division rivals is the first in nearly two months and just the third of the season. Including this weekend's series, the Twins and Royals will play four more times before the end of the 2016 campaign.
Kansas City has won four of its last five games, with pitching playing a critical role in those wins. The Royals won each of the final two games against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday and Thursday to move ahead of the South Siders in the Central Division standings.
Their win was also of the comeback variety, something the Royals have become good at again this season. Their eight comeback wins when trailing after seven innings are the most in baseball.
“They just don't give up. Even when we're not firing in all cylinders we can still find ways to come back and win ball games,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “It's Just a group of guys that continue to battle hard. They are not always successful. We've got a really good defense and our bullpen seems to stand up to those challenges.”
The Royals will try to take advantage of their momentum over the weekend by continuing their dominance of the limping Twins, who were battered to the tune of 25 runs in getting swept in both games of a split doubleheader against the Houston Astros at Target Field on Thursday.
“We've had a fairly decent run here in the short term, but the last three days haven't gone well as far as the outcomes,” said Twins manager Paul Molitor. “We're not going to dwell on it. It's not effort, and we're going to have to find a way to re-group and try to get back on track with the Royals coming in.”
The Twins will be counting on starting pitcher Kyle Gibson to go deep into the game after their two starters combined for just five innings in the doubleheader.
Gibson hasn't done much since his season high-water mark on July 22, when he allowed just one run in eight innings against Boston. In three starts since, Gibson hasn't gone beyond six innings and has an ERA of 5.74.
The right-hander hasn't faced the Royals this season but has had good success against them in the past, compiling a 5-3 record with 2.55 ERA in eight career starts, including the only compete game of his career last season.
Yordano Ventura will get the nod for the Royals. His season has been inconsistent but has been on the uptick lately. His 3.26 ERA over his last six games is more than a full run lower than his season ERA (4.64) and he's allowed a total of three runs his last two times out.
Ventura allowed two runs on just two hits but walked six in five innings of work against the Twins in his first start of the season on April 8.