While the Mariners again are last in the AL West, the Royals’ surprising start has them near the top of the Central early in 2011.
Looking to continue its impressive turnaround, Kansas City opens a four-game set against visiting Seattle on Thursday night.
After recording just 67 wins in 2010 and finishing last for the sixth time in seven seasons, the Royals (7-4) have impressed this year thanks to an efficient offense and a much-improved bullpen.
Second-place Kansas City, winner of seven of 10, split a two-game series at Minnesota with a 10-5 victory Wednesday.
“We’ve gotten on base a lot and if we don’t get it here, we’ll get it there,” said first baseman Billy Butler(notes), hitting .371 in his last nine games. “We’re just doing a good job of putting pressure on teams. We have to continue to do that, force the issue and keep taking the extra base.”
Alex Gordon(notes) has also played a big role in the Royals’ offensive resurgence. The left fielder, who has never consistently produced in his first four seasons in the major leagues, went 2 for 5 and is batting .410 during an eight-game hitting streak.
Royals relievers, who recorded an AL-worst 4.46 ERA last season, threw four scoreless frames and lowered their ERA to 1.72 over the last five games.
“Again, our bullpen is spectacular and did the job,” manager Ned Yost said.
Following a rocky season debut in which he surrendered five runs over five innings, Kansas City probable starter Bruce Chen(notes) (1-0, 4.09 ERA) allowed three hits and struck out seven over six scoreless innings en route to earning the win in Saturday’s 3-1 victory at Detroit.
“Chen shows that you don’t have to throw 95 miles an hour to get outs when you have command of every pitch,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “You can throw backdoor sliders and you can paint the black.”
Ichiro, though, saw his average dip to .245 after an 0-for-5 effort in Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to Toronto as the Mariners (4-8) left at least 10 men on base for the fourth time.
“We’ve done a good job in the bullpen. The guys have been set up and we’ve had them in roles,” said manager Eric Wedge, whose bullpen hadn’t allowed a run in the previous four games. “…Chris just didn’t have it today.”
Doug Fister(notes) (0-2, 2.31), scheduled to start Thursday, surrendered two runs - one earned - over six innings of Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Cleveland. The right-hander is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two lifetime starts against Kansas City.
Third baseman Chone Figgins(notes), batting .158, is expected back in the lineup after missing the last two games with a bruised left thumb. Figgins is hitting .169 during his last 21 visits to Kauffman Stadium.