Though it's only mid-May, few could have guessed Kansas City would have a better record than the Los Angeles Angels, who have a payroll roughly $60 million more than the Royals'.
That may not be the case much longer, though, if Kansas City can't snap out of its funk as it begins a nine-game road trip Monday night against Los Angeles.
The Royals (18-16) have finished with a winning record only once since 1995, but bold offseason moves to bolster their pitching rotation have paid off early.
Kansas City re-signed Jeremy Guthrie and traded for Ervin Santana, James Shields and Wade Davis, all of whom are part of a staff that ranks fourth in the AL with a 3.47 team ERA.
The Royals, though, have dropped six of seven after falling 4-2 to the New York Yankees on Sunday, with the offense mustering three or fewer runs five times in that stretch.
``We're still right in the hunt, but it's a long season,' Shields said after the Royals were swept. ``I've experienced (being) 11 games back going into September and making the playoffs (with Tampa Bay), so anything can happen. There's no panic here.'
Alex Gordon, hitting .393 over his last seven games, and Eric Hosmer have been a major reason for the team's early season success.
``We're still in a good spot,' said Hosmer, who has hit safely in six of his last seven. "We know if we just show up and continue to play, we're going to be where we want to be at the end of the year.'
Los Angeles seemed to have that type of confidence entering the season, but it possesses the second-worst record in the AL.
The Angels (14-23) had won three straight before finishing with one hit - Mike Trout's seventh-inning single - in Sunday's 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Josh Hamilton, the team's prized offseason signing who is hitting just .203, finished 1 for 12 in the three-game set.
"I think if there is one thing we saw in this series, is that we have the ability to pitch well and I think we have to carry that forward,' manager Mike Scioscia said
That hasn't always been true in the case of Joe Blanton, who will be seeking his first victory in eight tries.
The Angels have lost each time Blanton (0-6, 5.66 ERA) has started, though he's received only three runs of support over 20 2-3 innings during a three-start losing streak.
Blanton has a 3.48 ERA in that stretch after posting a 7.84 ERA in his first four starts.
"I'm not happy right now, but it does feel better to contribute and at least give us a chance to win," Blanton said. "The first couple of starts, I wasn't doing that.'
The right-hander is 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six career starts versus the Royals, whom he hasn't faced since 2007.
Kansas City with counter with a struggling start of its own in Luis Mendoza.
Mendoza (0-2, 6.38) has made four starts and has a 9.19 ERA over his last three after allowing five runs - three earned - in six innings of Wednesday's 5-3 loss at Baltimore.
The right-hander is 0-1 with a 15.00 ERA in two career starts versus the Angles, though neither came after 2008.
The Associated Press News Service
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