After dominating his former team in arguably his best start of the season, Royals starter Jason Vargas' next test comes against a vaunted Rockies lineup.
Vargas will oppose Jhoulys Chacin on Wednesday afternoon in the finale of a two-game Interleague series at Kauffman Stadium.
Vargas (3-1, 3.04 ERA) will have his hands full with a Rockies team that, thanks to a collection of proven stars and budding prospects, leads baseball in just about every hitting category.
"[Manager] Walt Weiss has done a great job with that group over there," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Their pitching is much improved, their defense is very solid, they got some exciting young players over there and some guys that are solid Major League starters like [Troy] Tulowitzki, [Carlos] Gonzalez ... [Charlie] Blackmon's off to a great year."
Tulowitzki's flirting with a .400 average, while Blackmon has turned into one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. Justin Morneau has returned to his 2006 American League MVP form, and young third baseman Nolan Arenado just snapped a 28-game hitting streak.
As a team, the Rockies lead the Majors in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, doubles and runs scored. Colorado's +51 run differential ranks second to the Athletics.
"You look at the offensive numbers and it's like, 'let me get my glasses, are you sure this is right?'" Yost said.
"Up and down the lineup, they can hit," Kansas City outfielder Alex Gordon said. "You see their numbers, it's off the charts. They've got one of the best players in the league in Tulowitzki and we know it's going to be a tough challenge."
Chacin (0-1, 4.91 ERA) faces a less-daunting matchup. The Royals rank last in home runs with just 18, a figure Colorado has already more than tripled (57).
Chacin, a six-year veteran, missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury. His second start of the season came last Friday in Cincinnati, when he scattered four hits and two runs over six innings in a no-decision.
Chacin has never faced the Royals.
Rockies: Colorado scorching with the bats
Tulowitzki (.394) and Blackmon (.342) rank first and second in the Majors in average, respectively. Tulowitzki has added 11 doubles and 11 home runs, for his MLB-leading .756 slugging percentage. He's not just hacking at the plate either; Tulowitzki's walked 27 times and only struck out 20.
Hitting coach Blake Doyle analyzed Tulowitzki's sizzling start.
"The biggest thing with Tulowitzki is that he's healthy," Doyle said. "As long as he's healthy, he's going to produce. Right now, he's on a real hot streak. He just has to make sure that the down time is not prolonged when that comes.
"His timing and his rhythm are spot-on. He is always prepared. He's probably the most prepared individual I've ever met in my life. His bat stays in his the hitting zone for a very long time."
Royals: Vargas aiming to repeat
For Vargas to quell the lethal Rockies offense, he must follow a similar gameplan that he executed in his last outing against the Mariners, who he pitched for from 2009-12. Last Friday, Vargas twirled a three-hit shutout, allowing a season-low three hits and zero walks, while tying a season-high with six strikeouts in Kansas City's 6-1 win at Seattle.
"I was able to control the strike zone and the count early, and hopefully that forced them to be more aggressive," Vargas said. "All you can do is go out there and prepare to execute."
Vargas has four ugly starts against the Rockies in his career. The lefty enters Wednesday's game with an 11.42 ERA against Colorado, and 42 hits and walks allowed in 17 1/3 innings.
Although, in career seven plate appearances, Vargas has not allowed a hit to Tulowitzki.
"He's a good player, you've got to execute good pitches," Vargas said. "If you get behind and fall into patterns you're going to get in trouble. The goal is to get ahead, and try to stay down in the zone."
On Monday, starter James Shields limited Tulowitzki to just one single in Kansas City's 5-1 win.
Nori Aoki has four extra-base hits (three home runs, one double) in 10 plate appearances vs. Chacin. No other player has more than two home runs against Chacin.
In addition to Tulowitzki and Blackmon leading the big leagues in average, Morneau comes in ninth at .329.
All nine of Blackmon's homers have come from the leadoff spot. That has him tied with Carlos Gomez of the Brewers for most top of the order homers.
Royals reliever Francisley Bueno tossed three scoreless innings in a rehab stint at Triple-A Omaha, striking out five on Tuesday night.
Jackson Alexander is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.