Yankees try to get back on track vs. Royals

NEW YORK -- Seven losses in 11 games may constitute a slump for the New York Yankees.

Meanwhile, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are hardly slumping as New York opens a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

Gardner and Judge helped the Yankees keep their longest losing streak of the season at three games when they contributed to a 3-2 win at Tampa Bay on Sunday. Gardner hit a two-run home run in the second inning off Chris Archer, and Aaron Judge compensated for a rare 0-for-4 (four strikeouts) with a memorable catch in right field.

Thanks to those plays, the Yankees (25-16) improved to 4-7 since they won six straight May 2-8.

Gardner heads into the series hitting .282 with eight home runs, 18 RBI and 31 runs. All of his home runs have been hit since April 29, when he slugged two against the Baltimore Orioles.

Starting with that game, Gardner is batting .359 (28-for-78) with 18 RBI and 21 runs in his past 15 games while his on-base percentage has climbed 60 points to .379.

"It sounds a little crazy, but last year I was really inconsistent and just not at my best," Gardner said. "The first three or four weeks this season I wasn't any good, either. Here recently, I've been swinging the bat better."

Judge is hitting .321, and his 15 homers lead the majors. He also is one of eight players in the American League with at least 30 RBI, and his batting average has not been under .300 since ending April 28.

Despite the quiet game, Judge is hitting .370 (27-for-73) in his past 20 contests.

"I wasn't doing it on offense," Judge said of his rough day Sunday, "so I had to do it on defense to help the team. That's what I'm getting paid to do out there, make plays."

The Royals (18-25) were 10 games under .500 two weeks ago and got to five games under after sweeping Baltimore from May 12-14. Kansas City dropped two of three to New York last week and two of three in Minnesota over the weekend, capped by a doubleheader split Sunday.

Kansas City took the first game of the twin bill with a 6-4 victory when Brandon Moss homered twice and Salvador Perez and Jorge Bonifacio each went deep. The Royals were unable to get the sweep as Ian Kennedy lasted two innings in his return from the disabled list, though it was more because Kansas City might need him Thursday if Nate Karns is unable to pitch due to fluid buildup near his elbow.

Perez hit three homers in the doubleheader and drove in five runs. His next home run as a catcher will be No. 95, breaking the franchise mark set by Mike Macfarlane.

Eric Hosmer also homered in the second game and had multi-hit games in both ends of the doubleheader. In his past 11 road games, Hosmer is batting .408 (18-for-49).

New York right-hander Michael Pineda and Kansas City lefty Jason Vargas will be facing off for the second consecutive outing. In an 11-7 New York win on Wednesday, Pineda (4-2, 3.42 ERA) allowed four runs (three earned) and six hits in six innings. He is 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA in his past seven starts.

Pineda is 4-5 with a 3.95 ERA in nine career starts against the Royals, and he has particularly struggled against Perez, Mike Moustakas and Hosmer.

Against Pineda, Perez is 9-for-23 (.391) with two homers, Moustakas is 7-for-15 (.467) with two homers, and Hosmer is 6-for-20 (.300). Alex Gordon is 4-for-22 (.182) against Pineda but will not play since he is on the paternity list.

Vargas (5-2) has a chance to reclaim the lead in the ERA race Monday night. Vargas saw his ERA rise to from 1.01 to 2.03 when he allowed six runs and seven hits in four innings on Wednesday.

"Vargy, for the most part, is going to give you a good five, six or seven innings, even on nights when he's not sharp," Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. "It was just one of those nights."

Vargas saw a 15-game scoreless streak end, and he fell behind Houston Astros ace Dallas Keuchel (1.84) in the ERA race.

Vargas is 0-6 with a 7.15 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) against the Yankees, who are the only American League team he has not beaten. In the Bronx, he is 0-4 with an 8.34 ERA in five starts.
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