Another explosive performance may be necessary in Sunday's series finale if Scott Kazmir's struggles versus the Kansas City Royals continue.Oakland (67-42) is scoring a major league-best 4.98 runs per game -- its most since averaging 5.46 in 2001 -- but had combined for one run and nine hits in consecutive losses prior to Saturday.The A's appeared in line for another paltry showing with Royals starter Jason Vargas throwing four perfect innings. But they erupted for eight runs and eight hits in the fifth -- including two singles by the newly acquired Jonny Gomes -- en route to an 8-3 win.Jon Lester allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings to earn the victory in his first start with his new club."Every once in a while some new blood, some new energy can help out," said Gomes, who hit 18 homers with 47 RBIs in 99 games for Oakland in 2012.Kazmir (12-3, 2.37 ERA) is one victory shy of matching a career high set with Tampa Bay in 2007. He is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five starts since surrendering a season-worst seven runs over three innings in a 10-1 loss to the Mets on June 24.However, he needed 94 pitches to get through five innings in a 9-3 victory at Texas last Sunday, allowing two runs. It marked just the third time in 12 starts that Kazmir failed to complete six innings."It was maybe not his best command at times," manager Bob Melvin said. "But seeing him be so good this season, that five-inning outing doesn't look so good."As impressive as Kazmir has been -- the left-hander's ERA ranks third in the AL -- he's just 1/3 with a 6.33 ERA in his last six starts against the Royals, completing more than five innings just once.Kansas City (56-53) had won eight of 10 with pitchers limiting opponents to seven runs over the last four games before Vargas unraveled Saturday.James Shields (9-6, 3.50) will try to get the staff back on track. Four of his last five outings have been quality starts, though he's just 1/3 in that span. He suffered a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Tuesday despite limiting the Twins to an earned run in six innings, though he matched a season high with four walks.Shields threw 124 pitches, two shy of a career high and his most since August 2011."I tried to keep the team in the game as long as I could," he said. "It just wasn't enough."The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in four career starts following his previous 124-plus pitch outings.Shields has limited the Athletics to two runs over 17 innings in two matchups since being shelled for a career worst-matching 10 runs in Oakland's 13-4 win over Tampa Bay on July 27, 2011.Billy Butler is batting .195 over his last 13 games and he's 0 for 16 in his last four matchups with the Athletics.
Coming into the weekend, the Athletics' offense had been among the best in MLB since the All-Star break.
A large part of this recent surge for their offense was the performance of Yoenis CÚspedes. CÚspedes had a .326 batting average, .333 on-base percentage, and .630 slugging percentage in the 11 games he played with the Athletics after the All-Star break. CÚspedes ranked ninth in the AL over that span with a hard-hit average of .277. He tied for the fourth most home runs with three and doubles with five.