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.