After entering the All-Star break on a low note, the Kansas City Royals are likely feeling much better about themselves to start the season’s second half.
Back-to-back wins over the division-leading Detroit Tigers will do that for a team.
Kansas City looks to complete the sweep on Sunday as it hosts Detroit.
The Royals (45-49) had lost five in a row prior to the break while being outscored 30-12. One run was good enough for a victory in Friday’s opener, then they tagged Justin Verlander for eight hits in 5 2/3 innings Saturday in a 6-5 victory, the team’s fifth win in its last six games versus Detroit.
Mike Moustakas was 3 for 4 with a go-ahead homer in the fifth inning off Verlander.
“There’s a great pitcher on the mound and he doesn’t make too many mistakes,” said Moustakas, who entered in a 3-for-20 slump. “I got a pitch I could handle and didn’t miss it.”
Another victory would give the Royals their first three-game sweep of a team with a record over .500 while bringing them within five games of the first-place Tigers (52-44).
James Shields (4-6, 3.21 ERA) will also try to begin the second half in strong fashion after sputtering prior to the break. The right-hander went 2-0 over his last five starts despite a 5.02 ERA.
Perhaps more concerning is Shields’ sudden inability to eat up innings. He’s lasted seven innings just once in his last six outings after going at least seven 10 times in his first 14 starts. Shields has also been less efficient, needing 18.6 pitches per inning compared to 15.3 previously.
He yielded three runs, seven hits and three walks over five innings of a 6-4 loss at Cleveland last Sunday, throwing 113 pitches.
“I don’t feel like I struggled,” said Shields, who came away without a decision in two starts versus Detroit earlier this year, giving up five runs over 15 innings. “I threw some really good pitches.”
Doug Fister (7-5, 4.02) will try to carry some momentum over from a solid outing prior to the break as he held Texas to two runs over six innings in a 7-2 win July 12. He had given up six runs in three of his previous four starts after allowing no more than five all season.
Despite holding the Royals to three runs in eight innings, Fister was the loser in a 3-2 final in Kansas City on June 10, falling to 1-3 in four career starts at Kauffman Stadium.
Both Shields and Fister saw better results in the second half last year. Shields posted a 2.81 post-break ERA compared to a 4.17 mark before the Midsummer Classic, while Fister followed a 4.75 pre-break ERA with a 2.67 figure.
The Tigers are without a home run in four of their last five contests with Miguel Cabrera going 3 for 14 and Prince Fielder 5 for 19. Cabrera and fellow All-Star Jhonny Peralta have hit Shields hard, going 14 for 32 and 10 for 26, respectively, but are a combined 1 for 10 against him this season.