Royals-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

Slowing down the Kansas City Royals is proving extremely difficult and the Minnesota Twins certainly don't seem a likely candidate.

In fact, none of the Royals' opponents over the next two weeks really do.

Kansas City has another chance to further extend its AL Central lead as it seeks a sixth straight road win Saturday night against the last-place Twins.

After going 18-4 during a stretch that included five wins in seven games versus MLB-best Oakland and a sweep of contending San Francisco, the Royals (67-54) entered Friday with 12 of their next 13 against last-place teams.

They began that favorable portion of the schedule with an 11th win in 12 games, spotting Minnesota (54-66) an early 2-0 lead before scoring five runs in the fourth en route to a 6-5 victory. Josh Willingham triggered the big inning with a bases-clearing double in his return to Target Field four days after he was acquired from the Twins.

''I knew it was going to be a little strange playing against your former team,'' Willingham said. ''I'm just happy we won the game tonight.''

Alcides Escobar had a two-run triple in the fourth and added an RBI single in the eighth for the Royals, who extended their division lead to 1 1/2 games over slumping Detroit.

Kansas City starters have posted a 2.43 ERA in the last nine road games, a trend Yordano Ventura (9-8, 3.45 ERA) looks to continue Saturday.

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts, and the Royals have won seven of his past eight outings. He limited Oakland to two runs and two hits over six innings but walked four before leaving without a decision in a 3-2 victory Monday.

Ventura is 5-2 with a 3.57 ERA in nine road starts this season but this will be his first appearance in Minnesota.

He struggled in his first career start against the Twins on April 20 before allowing one earned run over seven innings in a 6-3 victory July 31.

Minnesota has lost 13 of 18 at home, batting .156 with runners in scoring position during that span. The Twins have dropped three straight and seven of 10 against the Royals after winning the first three meetings this season.

''Unfortunately we couldn't make up enough ground. I don't think we did too well with runners in scoring position,'' Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''Although we scored some runs we still left some people out there.''

Joe Mauer doubled in the eighth to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, matching a career high set in 2008. He's 6 for 16 in four games after missing six weeks with an oblique strain.

Phil Hughes (12-8, 3.88) tries for a third consecutive winning start for Minnesota. He also faced Oakland in his last outing, yielding one run and four hits over seven innings while walking one and striking out seven in a 6-1 victory. The right-hander has posted a 2.37 ERA in his last three starts despite dealing with a cracked fingernail.

Hughes has recorded quality starts in both games against the Royals this season, splitting a pair of decisions with a 4.50 ERA. He's 6-3 with a 5.63 ERA in 10 career starts versus Kansas City.

Alex Gordon is 8 for 24 lifetime against Hughes and Billy Butler is 7 for 24 with a homer and three doubles. Escobar is 3 for 4 with a home run and a double in their matchups this season.

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