A look at an improved K.C. team and a couple of minor league notes

Like the 2012 Orioles, the 2013 Kansas City Royals are looking to bring winning baseball back to their city while ending a long playoff drought.

The Royals' last playoff appearance was in 1985, when they won the World Series, and their last winning season was in 2003. They went 72-90 last season.

But even after a tough 2-1 loss to the White Sox on Monday, the Royals bring a 17-11 record to Camden Yards tonight to begin a three-game series. Right now, the Royals are closer to first place than the Orioles are, just one back of Detroit in the American League Central.

Monday's loss snapped a four-game win streak during which they scored 25 runs and completed a 6-3 homestand. Kansas City began the season 2-3 and has gone 15-8 since then.

The Royals have a four-game winning streak riding against AL East opponents and are 5-3 against the division, going 1-2 versus Toronto, 2-1 against Boston and 2-0 against Tampa Bay.

Probably the biggest factor in their strong start is a pitching staff than ranks second in the AL in team ERA at 3.33, back of only Texas at 3.19. The Royals starting pitching ERA of 3.40 ranks third in the AL.

The O's will face old friend Jeremy Guthrie on Thursday in this series. Guthrie is 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA and coming off a four-hit, complete game shutout.

Tonight, the Royals' starter is 30-year-old right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 3-1 with an ERA of 2.00, which ranks seventh-best in the league. Santana is seeking his 100th career win and would become the 10th Dominican-born pitcher to have 100 or more win.

Santana gave up four earned runs in his first 2013 start, but is 3-0 with an ERA of 1.20 in four outings since. Santana already has four starts of seven innings or more while the entire O's staff has just two so far. He ranks third in fewest walks per nine innings in the AL at 1.25.

Meanwhile, Orioles minor league hitting prospect Nicky Delmonico, on the Single-A Frederick disabled list since April 19 with a concussion, has now been cleared by Major League Baseball to return to game action. He is heading to play some games in extended spring training before he rejoins an affiliate.

Also, even though he has pitched three and 4 1/3 innings over his last two outings, the Orioles' plan right now to keep Matt Hobgood pitching in a bullpen role. They like how his fastball velocity is coming back after last year's surgery and will keep him in the bullpen. Hobgood has touched 93 mph with his fastball at times this year. More on this tomorrow in this space.

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