(Sports Network) - Fresh off a series victory over the National League Central's first-place team, the Kansas City Royals will try to take down one of that division's lesser members when the club returns to Kauffman Stadium this evening for a three-game set with the Houston Astros.
Kansas City held its own when matched up against NL Central front-runner Cincinnati this past weekend, taking two of the three meetings at Great American Ball Park and claiming a 7-3 decision in Sunday's rubber match behind a complete-game effort from reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke.
Greinke (2-8) held the Reds to five hits and struck out a season-best 12 hitters in ending a frustrating five-start winless streak. The 2009 All-Star did give up a pair of solo homers to Cincinnati's Joey Votto, but did not walk a batter and threw 77 of his 105 pitches for strikes.
"My slider felt like it was working," Greinke said. "And it's always real nice to get some runs. It makes it a lot easier when you have a comfortable lead."
Billy Butler staked Greinke to a 3-2 lead with a two-run homer in the top of the fifth inning and added a two-RBI double in the seventh to extend the margin. The Royals first baseman finished the day with four hits in five at- bats.
David DeJesus also had a big day at the plate for Kansas City, winners of three of its last four overall, scoring four times and going 3-for-3 with a solo home run.
The Astros hope the Royals will be an easier challenge than their most recent opponent. Houston lost all three encounters with the defending world champion New York Yankees over the weekend, with the Bronx Bombers putting up a total of 22 runs in the series sweep.
New York won Sunday's finale by a 9-5 count, with Astros starter Brian Moehler (0-3) lasting just 4 2/3 innings and surrendering four runs while issuing five walks. That was a problem for Houston pitchers all throughout the day, as the team handed out 10 free passes while hitting a batter as well.
"[The walks] were a killer today, we had eight through five innings," Astros manager Brad Mills said afterward. "When you have a good hitting lineup, it's going to hurt you eventually. That was our Achilles [Sunday]."
Kevin Cash went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer for Houston, which entered the Yankees series off three consecutive wins at Colorado, while Tommy Manzella came through with a two-RBI single in a losing cause.
Mills will be expecting an improved showing on the mound from his team in tonight's opener. Considering the way scheduled starter Felipe Paulino has performed as of late, there's a good chance that will happen.
Paulino has strung together five consecutive quality starts and posted a sensational 1.75 earned run average over that stretch. Although the talented right-hander has managed just one win during that time, the Astros have prevailed in four of those games.
The 26-year-old has thrown eight innings in each of his last three assignments, including Wednesday's game at Coors Field in which he limited the Rockies to two runs and struck out seven despite not getting a decision. Paulino did notch a win in his previous start, however, after permitting just one run on five hits to best the Chicago Cubs on June 4.
The native Dominican will be searching for his road victory of 2010 as he opposes the Royals for the first time in his career. In five away starts so far this season, Paulino is 0-3 with a 4.41 ERA.
Kansas City will hand the ball to the struggling Kyle Davies this evening. The erratic right-hander has allowed five runs or more in three straight starts, recording a 1-2 mark and a poor 8.62 ERA during that span.
Davies did match a season best by pitching 6 2/3 innings this past Wednesday in Minnesota, but walked five men and was reached for five runs (four earned) to receive a loss. The former Atlanta Braves top prospect had been working on a week's rest after being tagged for six runs in just four innings in a 7-2 home setback to the Angels on June 2.
The 26-year-old carries a 1-3 record with a 4.00 ERA over five home starts into tonight's tilt and has never previously faced the Astros.
Kansas City won two of three bouts from Houston when these teams met at Minute Maid Park last season. The Astros are 5-1 all-time as the visitor in this series, however.