Royals-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

Joe Mauer has put together a strong stretch at the plate, but that's nothing new against the Kansas City Royals.

Mauer will try to continue his surge and help the Minnesota Twins to a third consecutive victory over the visiting Royals in the finale of this four-game set Sunday.

Mauer is hitting .420 with 15 RBIs in his last 19 games, raising his average to .325 and among the AL leaders.

He has five hits with a pair of RBIs in the first three games of this series after homering in a 5-1 win over Kansas City (35-41) in the nightcap of Saturday's doubleheader. He went 1 for 4 in a 7-2 victory in the opener.

Minnesota (32-45) hasn't won three in a row since June 6-9.

"We've been playing pretty good baseball and hopefully we can continue to do that," Mauer said.

He's had little trouble doing that against the Royals, hitting .465 while knocking in 25 runs in his last 26 games. However, he's 4 for 18 against Bruce Chen, Sunday's scheduled starter.

Francisco Liriano (2-7, 5.30 ERA) looks to continue his resurgence for the Twins. The left-hander has a 2.41 ERA in six starts since returning to the rotation but has split four decisions in that span due largely to an average of 2.89 runs of support.

That stretch includes a 1-0 loss at Kansas City opposite Chen on June 5, when Liriano yielded one run and four hits with eight strikeouts in six innings.

Liriano got enough help Monday, allowing one run and four hits in a season-high seven innings of a 4-1 win over the Chicago White Sox.

"I'm more relaxed. I'm not trying to make a perfect pitch," said Liriano, who was 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts before being demoted to the bullpen. "I'm not worried about the runners like I was before."

Liriano has won three of four home starts against the Royals with a 3.81 ERA.

Chen (7-6, 4.53) will try to best Liriano again after allowing four hits in seven innings June 5. That matchup, though, came in Kansas City and Chen is 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA in his last four starts at Minnesota, including a 7-4 loss on April 29. He was pulled with two outs in the third after giving up six runs and six hits.

The left-hander is 3-3 with a 6.05 ERA in nine road starts this season.

Chen was solid in his most recent outing, limiting Tampa Bay to two runs - one earned - in seven innings of an 8-2 home victory Tuesday.

"He's such a good big league pitcher, because he changes speeds very effectively, he throws strikes, he's on the attack, different arm angles, different locations, keeps hitters off-balance really well," manager Ned Yost told the team's official website.

Kansas City's Billy Butler hit his team-leading 16th homer in Saturday's nightcap and is batting .329 in his last 24 games. He's 13 for 31 (.419) his past seven contests in Minnesota, but 5 for 27 with six strikeouts lifetime against Liriano.

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