Preview: Royals kick off nine-game road trip in Chicago
The Kansas City Royals haven't been very good on the road lately, but James Shields has all season.
Shields will try to pitch the Royals to a fourth straight win Friday night when they open a very favorable nine-game trip against the Chicago White Sox.
After getting outscored 30-12 during a five-game road skid heading into the All-Star break, the Royals (48-51) returned home and won five of seven against AL Central-leading Detroit and Baltimore.
"It was a great homestand, going 5-2 against two teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today," Billy Butler said. "We're definitely playing catch-up."
Shields' tough-luck season continued in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers on Sunday, and Wade Davis was hit hard in a series-opening 9-2 loss to the Orioles the next day. But Kansas City rebounded with a pair of one-run victories before cruising to a 7-1 win over Baltimore on Thursday.
Butler homered and Alex Gordon and David Lough each added two RBIs as the Royals won three in a row for the first time since a season-best six-game streak in early June.
Butler is batting .412 (13 for 34) over his last nine games, but is 4 for 31 (.129) this year against the White Sox.
With the season's final two months quickly approaching, now would be a good time for the Royals to make a run in the Central. After splitting 20 games against teams with winning records, they play their next 12 against the White Sox (40-59), Minnesota and the New York Mets -- all sub-.500 clubs.
"We're trying to climb back to .500 and into the AL Central race.," Lough said.
With Shields (4-7, 3.24 ERA) on the mound, Kansas City is very likely to get a strong pitching performance, but runs are usually difficult to come by for the offense as well.
The right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 21 starts while completing at least seven innings 12 times. However, he's tied for fourth on the staff in wins due mainly to a 3.43 run-support average that ranks second-worst in the AL. Only Chicago's Chris Sale (2.67) receives less.
Shields has been particularly good on the road, going 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA in 11 outings. He was outstanding in his Royals debut at U.S. Cellular Field on April 1, yielding one run over six innings in a 1-0 loss to Sale.
Shields is 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA in his last five starts versus Chicago.
He has handled Paul Konerko (5 for 33) quite easily, but struggled with Alexei Ramirez (12 for 32 with two homers).
Ramirez and Tyler Flowers each drove in two to help the White Sox avoid a four-game sweep with a 7-4 victory over Detroit on Thursday.
It was only the eighth win in 25 games for Chicago, which is 5-4 this season against Kansas City after losing nine of the final 11 matchups in 2012.
Jose Quintana (5-2, 3.61) tries to win for the third time in four starts. He earned a 3-1 win over Atlanta on Sunday despite allowing nine hits and three walks over 5 2/3 innings. The left-hander is 2-0 with a 2.36 ERA in his last four starts after going 0-1 with a 4.57 ERA in his previous seven.
Quintana, who is 0-1 with a 4.30 ERA in five career starts against the Royals, will want to be careful with Mike Moustakas, who is 7 for 14 with two homers in this matchup. Gordon, Butler and Eric Hosmer, though, are a combined 5 for 39 (.128) versus Quintana.