Things were looking up for the Twins as soon as Chris Getz and Alex Gordon grounded out and Billy Butler lined out in the first inning Sunday.

The Royals went down 1-2-3, the first time the Twins held an opponent to a three-and-out in the first since April 22. The Twins gave up a first-inning run three times during this rain-shortened five-game homestand.

Jason Marquis not only had a smooth first inning, he lasted six innings. That in itself was reason enough for the Twins to celebrate during their plane ride to Anaheim, Calif., on Sunday night. Marquis showed the other Twins starters what the payoff can be for producing a quality start (pitching at least six innings, giving up three or fewer earned runs) during a 7-4 victory over Kansas City that ended a six-game losing streak.

Marquis notched only the Twins' fourth quality start in 21 games. Carl Pavano has two. Liam Hendriks had the other.

That's pretty bad.

Twins starters entered Sunday with a 7.01 ERA.

That's just plain awful.

It's impossible for an offense to outhit a big number like that, which is why the Twins are 6-15 and tied with the Royals for the worst record in the majors.

The challenge for the starters is to catch up to the offense if the Twins want to resemble the team they think they have.

And that doesn't mean they need to live Justin Verlander's life. Just get to the final third of the game and let the manager make pitching changes from the dugout, not the mound.

"No, don't want 'S' on anybody's chest," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We just want them to go out there and throw the ball over the plate. I think we're catching the ball a lot better. We seem to be doing that pretty good. We think we can score some runs, but [the starters] have to put up some zeroes for us and give us the opportunity to do some damage against the other people."

The Twins jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning and were up 6-1 after three. That was only the sixth time this season the Twins scored first in a game.

Marquis wasn't perfect -- Mike Moustakas hit a 410-foot homer in the second inning, and Kansas City added two more runs in the fourth -- but the veteran righthander limited the damage.

"He kept trusting that sinker," Gardenhire said. "That was good. The ball was diving."

The Twins look like they have a solid offense. They are 21st in the major leagues in runs scored, but that's because they are hitting .242 with runners in scoring position. The important thing: They are eighth in at-bats in those situations. They are generating RBI opportunities, which is what you want. And they were 5-for-14 in that area Sunday.

"If we would have pitched up to our offense," Gardenhire said, "we would have been in better shape."

The Twins are averaging 4.7 runs over their past 12 games. They are 6-4 when they score at least four runs. They are 0-11 when they don't.

The bullpen got through the last three innings, although Jared Burton and Glen Perkins each put on two baserunners and the Royals scored a run in the ninth off closer Matt Capps. But with a 3.86 ERA, Twins relievers have been much more reliable than starters this season.

It's obvious what has to happen for the Twins to win games. Sunday was a reminder to other members of the rotation.

"You don't want to take that thought process to the mound because you don't want to get too relaxed and start leaving balls over the middle," Marquis said, "but you know if you go out there and execute your game plan and do what you supposed to do, you have a very, very good chance of winning."

La Velle E. Neal III •