Preview: Royals send a strong Shields to mound for finale
While the Kansas City Royals arrived at Rogers Centre enjoying one of their longest winning streaks of the season, they haven’t seen their success carry over north of the border.
Kansas City tries to avoid a three-game sweep against the Toronto Blue Jays, who go for a sixth win in seven games Sunday.
The Royals (69-66) had won five straight by a 34-8 margin before failing to generate much offense in Friday’s 3-2 loss. They suffered another close defeat Saturday, falling 4-2 after Aaron Crow issued back-to-back bases-loaded walks during Toronto’s three-run eighth-inning rally.
“We can’t be coming in and doing that at this time of year,” said manager Ned Yost, who was ejected for arguing with home plate umpire Will Little. “We’ve got to command the ball a little better in these crucial situations. Aaron does, anyway.”
Sitting in sixth place in the AL wild-card standings, Kansas City has gone 3-10 in the series since the start of last year.
The Blue Jays (62-74) have followed a season worst-tying seven-game losing streak with a 5-1 stretch. R.A. Dickey threw eight strong innings and Jose Reyes collected three hits Saturday.
Ryan Goins has also provided a big spark, hitting safely in each of his first eight career games to match Jesse Barfield’s team record set in 1981. The second baseman, who was called up last Thursday, has gone 12 for 30 (.400) with seven runs.
The Blue Jays will try to keep things going against Royals starter James Shields (9-8, 3.14 ERA), who is seeking his major league best-tying 23rd quality start.
The right-hander has been nearly untouchable in his last four starts, going 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA. Shields gave up one run and four hits in 7 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s 6-1 victory at Minnesota.
“I’ve got a ton of quality starts this year and I feel like I’ve been pitching well all year,” he said. “The wins are going to come. I’m not really too worried about it. I’m just going to keep grinding out the rest of the season and hope for the best.”
Shields had gone 5-0 with a 0.94 ERA during a six-start stretch against the Blue Jays before throwing a two-hitter in a 3-2 loss April 13. Shields has also gone the distance in his last two starts in Toronto, winning both while allowing a combined one run and striking out 19.
Edwin Encarnacion is 5 for 26 in their matchups, and Rajai Davis is 1 for 11.
The Blue Jays counter with J.A. Happ (3-4, 5.46), who has posted an 8.10 ERA in losing his last two starts. The left-hander yielded five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings in Tuesday’s 7-1 defeat to the New York Yankees.
“I know I can pitch better,” he said. “I’m going to try not to think about this one too much, try not to overanalyze it. I felt good, I’m healthy, I’m throwing the ball well. I just need to take that next step.”
Happ has won both his career starts against the Royals despite a 4.91 ERA. He surrendered four runs in five innings but earned the win in an 8-4 road victory April 12.
Alcides Escobar is 1 for 10 versus Happ, and Justin Maxwell, Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler are a combined 0 for 12. Butler, hitless in his last 11 at-bats, is 2 for his last 42 against the Blue Jays.