Pitching was supposed to be the question mark heading into 2008 for the New York Yankees, but through nine games it’s been their offense that has failed them.
The Kansas City Royals’ suddenly dominant pitching staff has done its job to make that trend continue.
The Royals will look to win their fourth straight on Thursday while trying for just their second three-game home sweep of the Yankees since 1990.
Kansas City (6-2) has a 2.25 ERA through eight games, the best mark in the major leagues. That strong start has the Royals off to their best start since they won their first nine games in 2003.
In winning their last three outings, Kansas City starters have pitched a total of 18 innings and allowed two earned runs.
Two of those starts came against the Yankees (4-5), who were limited to two runs on seven hits in Monday’s series opener. New York put together an even worse offensive performance on Wednesday when Zack Greinke pitched eight strong innings, shutting down what was supposed to be one of the American League’s premier offenses in the Royals 4-0 win.
Through nine games, the Yankees have 25 runs - the fewest in the AL.
“We believe in this offense,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Eventually, they are going to hit. Our approach is not bad. We’re just not getting a lot of results right now.”
John Bale (0-1, 5.68 ERA) will try to keep Kansas City’s streak of impressive starts intact. Bale gave up four runs in 6 1-3 innings in his season debut Friday in a 4-3 loss at Minnesota, his first start in the majors since 2003.
“Definitely excited about being back in the rotation,” Bale said after that game. “Hope to come back strong next week and give the team a chance to win.”
Bale was 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in three relief appearances against the Yankees last season.
Two second-year players are carrying the Royals’ offense so far. Designated hitter Billy Butler is hitting .406 with four-extra base hits and three RBIs, while third baseman Alex Gordon is batting .303 with two homers and six RBIs.
Gordon has never faced left-hander Andy Pettitte (0-1, 5.40), who will be getting the start for the Yankees.
Pettitte, though, has seen plenty of Kansas City in his 14-year career, most of the time with great success. He’s 11-3 with a 3.04 ERA in 17 career starts against the Royals.
He’s been especially good in his last eight games against them, going 6-0 while striking out 35 and walking only three.
Pettitte lasted five innings in his season debut on Saturday, allowing five runs - three earned - in a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay.
“There’s no doubt I was rusty,” said Pettitte, who opened the season on the disabled list due to back spasms.
Rusty would also be a good way to describe the Yankees’ lineup. They hit .290 last season - best in the majors - but are only batting .244 through eight games. New York, which scored nearly six runs per game in 2007, is putting up just 2.78 so far this season.
Center fielder Johnny Damon’s struggles at the top of the order continued Wednesday, as he struck out twice. He’s hitting .212 with two runs scored in nine games.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez has two hits in eight at-bats in this series, but he thrived at Kauffman Stadium in 2007, hitting .385 with five homers and nine RBIs.
Shortstop Derek Jeter will sit out his third straight game with a sore thigh.
The Royals last swept the Yankees at home by winning three from May 31-June 2, 2005.