Enjoying their longest win streak of the season, the Kansas City Royals have a chance to celebrate moving over the .500 mark Tuesday night.
Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is expecting to receive celebratory cigars for a different reason.
Gardenhire’s Twins expect to have Joe Mauer back from paternity leave when they seek to end the visiting Royals’ six-game run.
Kansas City (51-51) matched its longest 2013 streak with Sunday’s 4-2, 12-inning road win over the Chicago White Sox. It’s the Royals’ best record this late in the year since they finished 2003 at 83-79.
“To get here was big,” said manager Ned Yost, whose club was last over .500 on May 18. “Now we got to get past it and just stay focused day to day.”
Mauer will rejoin the Twins (45-57) and play for the first time since last Monday. He was away from the team since his wife gave birth Wednesday, appropriately enough to twins.
Gardenhire, known for his love of cigars, said he is expecting a pair from his superstar catcher.
“I know cigars are coming,” the manager told the Twins’ official website. “Yes, I’ll make sure I get a good cigar from him, I promise you that. It’s going to be two cigars. It’s two kids.”
Mauer, one of the AL’s top hitters at .324, is 7 for 43 (.163) with 10 strikeouts against Kansas City, with Minnesota losing seven of 10 meetings. He’s fared much better against Royals starter Ervin Santana (6-6, 3.06 ERA), going 14 for 34 (.412).
Santana is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his last four outings versus the Twins - 1-0 with a 2.57 mark in two in 2013.
The right-hander is 3-1 in six starts against AL Central foes with a 1.96 ERA - his best against any division.
The Royals expect center fielder Lorenzo Cain to return Tuesday. Cain sat out Sunday after leaving Saturday’s 1-0 win with tightness in his left groin.
Cain is 11 for 33 against Minnesota this year while Billy Butler is 17 for 35 with two homers and eight RBIs. Butler is also hitting .400 over an 8-4 stretch for Kansas City.
“This is a lot of fun,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “We have a lot of guys that are playing well and picking each other up and just a good team right now.”
The Royals have to like their chances versus Mike Pelfrey (4-8, 5.15), who is 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA in two starts against them this year. Six Kansas City hitters - including Butler, Gordon and Cain - have two hits against him in those games.
Although Pelfrey is enduring a miserable season, the right-hander has pitched better this month in going 1-2 with a 2.28 ERA in four starts.
The Twins begin this three-game set after a 4-3 trip.
Second baseman Brian Dozier, who has a seven-game hitting streak, left Sunday’s 6-4 defeat to Seattle in the sixth with lower back stiffness. His status for Tuesday is unclear.
“I did something two nights ago and it locked up on me a couple times,” Dozier said. “It’s just a little back spasm.”
Minnesota slugger Justin Morneau is hitting .333 in the season series. He’s 6 for 24 with three homers against Santana.
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