Series Preview: Yankees (70-45) @ Royals (62-54)

Despite all of the flack that the Kansas City Royals have been catching from just about everyone, they're still leading the American League Central. The Yankees head into Kauffman Stadium to start off the workweek with a matchup between two division leaders. The Yanks need to get back on track after a poor series against the Mariners, but the Royals won't be going down easily.

The Yanks are reeling after Sunday's bullpen meltdown. The Benitez-for-Nelson deal was supposed to be an improvement, but the Bomber bullpen doesn't look much better than it did at the beginning of the season. Kansas City happens to have a better offense than most people realize, and with the return of slugger Mike Sweeney, their lineup is solid.

Most recently, KC split a four-game series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays while wrapping up a road trip that they finished with a 3-4 record. The Royals' hold on the division lead is slipping with the White Sox playing better baseball lately. Their lead is just a slim half game, and that could provide extra motivation for them to pick up their game.

Yankees Road Record: 37-21
Royals Home Record: 31-27

Probable Pitchers:

Monday: David Wells (12-3, 3.69) vs. Paul Abbott (0-0, 0.00)

Wells still hasn't lost a start since July 4, but he hasn't received a decision in any of his last three starts either. In his last start, he went seven innings against the Rangers and allowed just three runs, but the Yankees lost when Mariano Rivera faltered in the ninth. Wells' back remains a question mark, but he shouldn't miss this start. In his career against KC, Wells is 14-3 with a 3.10 ERA.

Abbott is the latest acquisition by the Royals in their efforts to bolster their pitching staff. The Diamondbacks traded the 35-year-old to the Royals on August 8. In 11 games with Arizona's AAA affiliate in Tuscon, Abbott was 3-4 with a 3.95 ERA. He had the best year of his career with Seattle in 2001 when he won 17 games but he missed most of 2002 after undergoing surgery on his labrum. Bernie Williams has a .571 career average against Abbott, with a pair of homeruns.

Tuesday: Mike Mussina (12-6, 3.35) vs. Darrell May (5-5, 3.65)

Mussina was victorious in his last start, allowing four runs against the Rangers in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out five without walking a batter to earn just his second winning decision since June 26. The Moose is 12-6 with a 3.13 ERA in his career against the Royals. Raul Ibanez has five hits in just seven at bats against Mussina when they have faced each other.

May has been a pleasant surprise for the Royals, and even ran off five straight victories a few weeks ago. Since notching his fifth win however, May had a 6.53 ERA before shutting out Tampa Bay for six innings in his last start. He didn't get a decision in that outing, as the Drays overcame the Royals late in the game. May has never started against the Yanks, but in five appearances he has a 1.04 ERA and ten strikeouts in just 8 2/3 innings.

Wednesday: Jeff Weaver (6-8, 5.44) vs. Kevin Appier (7-8, 5.53)

Weaver still has time to get his act together before the season ends and the Yankees have to decide if he even makes the post-season roster, but he has to start doing well now. His .310 opponent's batting average is the scariest number for Weaver, as it is a full 60 points higher than 2002's mark. The Mariners banged him around in his last start, allowing nine hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings, but the good news is that he has good numbers against KC. In 12 games, he has a 4-5 record with a 3.06 ERA.

The Angels released Appier shortly after the Yankees forced him from the game after recording just two outs on July 29. The Royals re-signed him to add an arm to their rotation, and he responded by pitching just well enough to get a no-decision against Tampa. Appier spent 1989 through 1999 with the Royals and enjoyed his finest years there. The change of scenery will do him good, but he still has to face the Yankees.

Predictions and Prognostications:

The Royals are an interesting team, and a tough one to figure out. Looking over their roster, it's hard to figure out how they're managing to win on a regular basis, but they do it anyway. Their pitching is close to awful however, and that will hurt them in this series. But the return of Mike Sweeney, arguably the team's best hitter, will definitely put a hop in their step. This series could really go any way at all. But the Yankees definitely have the better team and could definitely pull out a pair of wins on the road.

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