The Kansas City Royals have spent the last month looking like a team that’s poised to give contenders fits down the stretch.
That’s just what the woeful Minnesota Twins have done to them.
The Royals can finish August with the AL Central’s best record if they can finally figure out the visiting Twins on Friday night and record a season high-tying fourth straight win.
Kansas City (59-71) was 18 games under .500 through July, but it’s 17-11 in August after finishing a sweep of playoff-contending Detroit with Thursday’s 2-1 win.
The Royals have been at their best this month within the Central. They’re 10-1 against their rivals after going 13-23 within the division during the season’s first four months.
Kansas City won all three games against the Tigers by one run, improving to 23-16 in such situations.
“Close ballgames, high intensity in the ninth inning, so it was a good team win - all three of them,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, who homered Thursday and is hitting .417 during an eight-game hitting streak.
The Royals’ recent success against the Central has come against the Tigers, White Sox and Indians, but Friday will be Kansas City’s first look at Minnesota (53-78) since it’s gotten things turned around.
Shockingly, that might not be a good thing. The Royals are 4-8 against Minnesota in 2012, having dropped the past three series.
Kansas City won its last two games against the Tigers despite scoring only three total runs, but might need a few more Friday.
After lasting seven innings apiece in a pair of strong starts earlier in August, Will Smith (4-6, 5.55 ERA) has regressed. The rookie left-hander gave up four runs in 3 2-3 innings in a 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Aug. 20, then surrendered five in five frames of an 8-6 defeat at Boston on Sunday.
“Just not a good day. It just wasn’t there today,” Smith said after falling to the Red Sox. “Couldn’t get anybody out, just gave up a lot of base hits. Nothing was working.”
Nothing was working at all in his lone previous look at the Twins. Smith gave up seven runs over 4 2-3 innings in a 10-7 home loss June 4, surrendering homers to Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and Trevor Plouffe.
His opponent that day was fellow rookie Cole De Vries (3-5, 4.68), who earned his first major league win despite giving up five runs in five innings. The right-hander was much better June 30 at Target Field, holding the Royals to one run in six innings of a 5-1 victory.
He then went nearly two months without a win before earning one in a tough environment Sunday. De Vries held Texas to two runs - one earned - and three hits over five innings as Minnesota won 6-5.
“I’m happy to have a performance like that against a powerful offense,” De Vries said.
His own offense hasn’t done much lately. The Twins have averaged 3.48 runs while going 4-17 in their last 21 games and haven’t won back-to-back contests since Aug. 6 and 7 following Thursday’s 5-4 loss to Seattle.
“It’s frustrating and it’s disappointing at the same time,” pitcher Brian Duensing said. “We feel we’ve got a good team, a good offense and pitching and everything, but we just can’t quite put it together, it seems like.”