The Kansas City Royals are among the biggest surprises of the young 2008 season, winning six of their first nine games under first-year manager Trey Hillman and taking an early lead in the AL Central.
It’s just as surprising that the only series they’ve lost was against the Minnesota Twins.
The Royals and right-hander Gil Meche will look to avenge last weekend’s losses to Minnesota when the Twins open a three-game series in Kansas City on Friday.
Kansas City, the AL Central’s last-place team the last four years, has won five of six against the teams with the two highest payrolls in the major leagues, starting the season with three straight wins in Detroit and taking two of three from the New York Yankees this week.
But the Royals (6-3) dropped two out of three at Minnesota last weekend - the only series the Twins (4-5) have won. Minnesota had lost three straight before that series.
One Kansas City loss in Minneapolis was due to a poor performance by the Royals’ opening day starter. Meche (0-1, 6.94 ERA) blanked the Twins for three innings, but allowed a three-run home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth and ended up permitting six runs in 5 2-3 innings.
“The first three innings couldn’t have been any better for me,” Meche said. “Stuff-wise it was there. … Then all of a sudden I just started making mistakes, falling behind, probably trying to do too much when I didn’t have to.”
Despite a 1-2 record against the Twins last year, Meche had a 3.05 ERA, allowing three or fewer runs in each start.
Just as he was last weekend, he’ll be opposed on Friday by Livan Hernandez, who’s already off to his best start since winning his first four starts in 2002.
Hernandez (2-0, 3.86), who signed with the Twins in the offseason after spending his first 11 seasons in the NL, needed only 74 pitches to get through seven innings in his first-ever appearance against the Royals last week, allowing four runs and getting the win.
“You could see the big, slow curveball,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s got a good changeup and he locates very well. He’s a pleasure to watch. He’s fun to watch.”
The right-hander was slated to start Thursday’s game at the Chicago White Sox, but the deciding game of that series was postponed due to rain, allowing the Twins to push back all their pitchers and delay further decisions about the back end of their rotation.
Minnesota avoided a three-game losing streak with a 12-5 win in Chicago on Wednesday, as the Twins doubled their previous season high in runs. Jason Kubel led the way with a grand slam and six RBIs.
“We used the whole field all the way around, shooting the ball the other way,” Gardenhire said. “We put a lot of good swings on the ball.”
Kansas City, meanwhile, struggled offensively against the Yankees in a 6-1 loss on Thursday, as their second three-game winning streak of the season came to an end.
Still, Royals DH Billy Butler singled in the seventh inning, continuing to hit safely in every game this season. Butler is hitting .400.