The Minnesota Twins are looking like the team that won the AL Central last year.
The Kansas City Royals no longer look like the one that is going to win it this year.
The Royals could be spending their last day in first place as they open a four-game series with the surging Twins.
Minnesota got its title defense off to a poor start this season, but has been playing much better of late. The Twins have won four of five and eight of 12 to pull within a half-game of the Royals and Chicago White Sox, who share first place.
“This is serious,” Hunter said. “I smell blood. I’m like a pit bull. Once I taste blood, I’m on you.”
The Royals have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball this season, but they are struggling to hold on. Kansas City has lost five of six, including two of three to the Twins last week.
Kansas City comes in after being swept in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, capped by Wednesday’s 8-7 loss. The Royals are one loss away from tying their longest losing streak of the season, having dropped four straight earlier this month.
The Royals have lost nearly all of the comfortable lead they had at the All-Star break, when they led the White Sox by seven games and the Twins by 7 1/2 .
After having one of his best outings of the season against Kansas City last week, Kenny Rogers will start for Minnesota in the opener. Rogers limited the Royals to an unearned run and two hits over eight innings in the Twins’ 9-2 victory on Friday.
STANDINGS: Royals - 1st place, AL Central. Twins - 3rd place, 1/2 GB, AL Central.
ROYALS PROBABLE STARTER: Paul Abbott (0-0, 11.17 ERA). Abbott makes his fourth appearance since being acquired from Arizona on Aug. 8. The right-hander made one start and two relief appearances, and wasn’t impressive in any of them. He has yielded 13 runs, 17 hits and four homers in just 9 2-3 innings. Abbott is 4-2 in 11 games, including six starts, against Minnesota.
TWINS PROBABLE STARTER: Rogers (10-6, 4.70 ERA). Rogers has won two straight starts and is 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA in his last three outings. The veteran left-hander is 1-2 with a 5.33 ERA in four starts against the Royals this season and 13-12 with a 3.80 ERA lifetime against them.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Royals - Mike Sweeney, .317 avg.; Carlos Beltran, 21 HRs, 80 RBIs and 30 SBs.; Beltran and Raul Ibanez, 75 runs. Twins - Shannon Stewart, .308 avg. and 70 runs; Hunter, 22 HRs and 82 RBIs; Cristian Guzman, 13 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Royals, 9-6.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Royals - This series starts a stretch in which Kansas City plays 24 of its remaining 37 games against AL Central teams. The Royals are 34-18 against the Central this season. … The Royals are 14-19 since the All-Star break. … INF Ken Harvey is hitting .636 (7-for-11) on the Royals’ road trip. Twins - Minnesota outscored its opponents 39-17 while going 4-1 on its road trip. … The Twins are 27-25 against AL Central teams. … C Matt LeCroy has hit in seven straight games, batting .385 (10-for-26) with nine RBIs.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Royals - 31-30 on the road; Twins - 33-30 at home.
INJURIES: Royals - OF Michael Tucker (leg), 15-day DL; RHP Kyle Snyder (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Miguel Asencio (elbow), 60-day DL. Twins - OF Lew Ford (arm), 15-day DL; RHP Rick Reed (back), 15-day DL; RHP Mike Fetters (hamstring), 60-day DL; LHP Eric Milton (elbow), 60-day DL.