The Kansas City Royals being in playoff contention is still relatively new, but the blueprint of how they got there is old hat to the team they're trying to beat this weekend.
The AL Central leaders try to provide some offense for Danny Duffy and ride their bullpen to another victory Saturday when their series continues in the Bronx versus the New York Yankees.Kansas City improved to 30-11 since July 22 with a 1-0 victory Friday night as James Shields and Wade Davis combined on a three-hitter. Alcides Escobar's hustle on a two-base fielding error by Chase Headley paid dividends as he scored on Nori Aoki's third-inning single, and the Royals (78-61) moved 17 games over .500 for the first time since 1989 and extended their lead atop the division to two games."Hopefully we can enjoy the moment and embrace it, have fun with it," Shields said.Davis notched his first career save as closer Greg Holland watched with tightness in his right triceps. Along with Kelvin Herrera, the trio has been lights-out while fueling Kansas City's bid for its first playoff appearance since winning the 1985 World Series."He was up to the challenge," manager Ned Yost said of Davis, who has fanned 92 batters in 62 1/3 innings this season.Since June 27, Davis, Holland and Herrera have combined for 100 strikeouts and yielded only three earned runs in 82 innings, with Davis and Herrera carrying shutout streaks of 28 2/3 and 26 2/3 innings, respectively. Holland has shut the door almost always and his 42 saves lead the AL.Their effectiveness has helped produce some gaudy win-loss records for the Royals, who at 69-1 are the lone team in the majors with only one loss after eight innings.The Yankees (72-67) know all too well about how an effective relief corps can help create a World Series contender, as Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton would often build a path to Mariano Rivera as the backbone of a bullpen that won three straight titles from 1998-2000. Now, the urgency to claim the second wild-card spot -- its deficit to Seattle is 4 1/2 games -- grows larger with each loss as New York tries to avoid missing the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1992-93."They're all damaging at this point because it just makes it that much tougher," said manager Joe Girardi.The Royals are 61-41 when their starter pitches at least six innings, but 6-8 in such instances behind Duffy (8-11, 2.42 ERA). He's often been effective -- left-handed hitters are batting only .129 and opponents are hitting .201 overall against him -- but the left-hander has been given only 3.38 runs of support per start, a mark among the worst in the majors.He won't get a decision from his outing Sunday, which was suspended in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Royals trailing Cleveland 4-2. He allowed two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings. Duffy did not get a decision against New York on June 7, giving up three runs in 5 2/3 innings before Kansas City eventually won 8-4.Brandon McCarthy (5-4, 2.80) is trying to avoid a third straight loss and fifth in six starts. The right-hander has given up nine runs and 14 hits in 12 1/3 innings in losing his last two outings following a four-hit shutout of Houston on Aug. 21. He allowed three solo homers and four runs overall in six-plus innings of a 4-3 defeat to Toronto on Sunday in which he blew a 3-0 lead.Royals slugger Alex Gordon is 5 for 12 versus McCarthy and Billy Butler is 4 for 11 with a homer.