Royals-Twins Preview

The Kansas City Royals received plenty of flak for trading two
of their top prospects for James Shields in the offseason, but he’s
proving to be a major reason they’re heading into August with
legitimate playoff hopes.

Shields takes the mound as visiting Kansas City seeks a ninth
consecutive win Thursday against the Twins – and its first sweep in
Minnesota in 14 years.

The Royals dealt Wil Myers and pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi,
along with two other minor leaguers, to Tampa Bay for Shields on
Dec. 10 in a trade that was made with the present in mind.

Kansas City (53-51) doesn’t have many complaints right now as it
is just 4 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the AL’s second wild-card
spot. The Royals haven’t been above .500 this late since finishing
83-79 in 2003.

They started that season 9-0, which also is the last time
they’ve had a winning streak of that length.

“We’re just hoping to continue it every day,” said Billy
Butler, who drove in two runs in Wednesday’s 4-3 win over the
Twins. “Everybody in here doesn’t want to be the guy that ends the
streak. That’s the type of pressure we want to put ourselves
in.”

The Royals haven’t swept a series in Minnesota since taking four
games May 7-10, 1999.

Though Shields (5-7, 3.09 ERA) has been solid, the offense
hasn’t provide much support for him.

Shields ranks near the bottom of the majors with a 3.39
run-support average, but he didn’t need much help while pitching
seven scoreless innings of Friday’s 5-1 win over the Chicago White
Sox.

He’s 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA while getting 10 runs of support over
his last four outings.

“Forget the record,” manager Ned Yost said. “The record doesn’t
tell a quarter of the story of the way he’s pitched all year. He’s
been really, really good. He’s an innings eater (and) he keeps us
in the game every time. We’ve just struggled to score runs for
him.”

The Royals didn’t have trouble scoring the last time Shields
faced the Twins, winning 9-3 as he gave up three runs in 6 1-3
innings June 28. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.62 ERA in his
last five starts versus Minnesota.

The Twins (45-59) have dropped three straight after Wednesday’s
defeat, as shortstop Pedro Florimon made a crucial error in the
seventh that eventually led to two runs scoring.

Florimon did homer in the fifth, though, while Trevor Plouffe
and Chris Herrmann each drove in a run.

“They’re hot right now,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of the
Royals. “Things are going their way. They’re definitely into the
games over there.”

Scott Diamond will take the hill looking to cool off Kansas City
while picking up his first victory since June 20.

Diamond (5-9, 5.26) has gone 0-3 with a 5.23 ERA over his last
six starts, though he limited Seattle to one run in 6 2-3 innings
of Minnesota’s 3-2, 13-inning win on Friday.

“We really just continued to attack the zone and kept them on
their heels,” Diamond said. “It really paid off.”

The left-hander allowed four runs and 10 hits over six innings
while losing each of his last two starts versus the Royals in
2012.

Kansas City has a 1.44 ERA during its winning streak, and
Minnesota is averaging 2.6 runs while dropping five of seven.