The Kansas City Royals are the hottest team in baseball in large part because of excellent pitching over a five-game winning streak.
They now return to the top of the rotation with the pitcher who got it started as James Shields tries to keep it going Saturday night in the second of a three-game home series with the San Francisco Giants.
After Friday's 4-2 win, Kansas City (61-53) has a 2.20 ERA during the current run, the latest streak on an MLB-best 13-3 stretch since July 22. It's put the Royals into the second AL wild-card spot and pulled them within 2 1/2 games of Detroit for the AL Central lead. They're also 12-4 against the NL this season.
"It feels good right now, it feels good after every win and we're winning a lot lately, and I feel like our team's only getting better," Billy Butler told MLB's official website.
Butler is certainly getting better. He went 2 for 3 with a home run and three RBIs to continue turning around his season. The first baseman is 11 for 19 with five extra-base hits and six RBIs during the winning streak. Over 13 games, he's batting .400 with four homers, four doubles and 11 RBIs. He had homered three times in his first 100 games of the season.
Shields (10-6, 3.43 ERA) matched his longest outing of the season in Sunday's 4-2 win in Oakland, tossing eight innings while surrendering two runs and four hits to earn his first win in five starts. He was perfect through five, and his pitch count of 102 was his lowest in 11 starts despite the extended outing.
The right-hander is one of seven active pitchers with a double-digit win total in eight straight seasons.
"Having another double-digit (wins) season is nice," Shields told MLB's official website. "Hopefully these next nine games or so I can get a (few) more."
He's 2-2 with a 1.99 ERA over six starts, and August has traditionally been his best month other than April with a 26-12 record and 3.15 ERA.
Shields is 2-0 with a 3.42 ERA in four interleague starts this season. He hasn't faced the Giants, though he's held Hunter Pence hitless in seven matchups with three strikeouts. Gregor Blanco is 3 for 4.
He'll be opposed by Tim Hudson, who has struggled against the AL this season with a 1-2 record and 7.41 ERA in three starts.
Hudson (8-8, 2.74) also didn't have his best stuff his last time out as he gave up three runs - two earned - and seven hits with two walks in five innings and didn't earn the decision in Monday's 4-3 win over the New York Mets.
He's allowed more than two earned runs just once in 11 road starts for a 3-4 record and 2.24 ERA.
San Francisco (62-54) has dropped seven of 10 to the Royals in the all-time series. It remains 3 1/2 games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West despite Friday's 12-hit effort.
"That's a game, certainly, that we should have won," said manager Bruce Bochy, whose club has dropped six of seven against the AL. "We had the hits and the runners."
Four Giants collected two hits, among them Pablo Sandoval, who is batting .352 over 22 games.
Prior to the game, first baseman Brandon Belt went on the seven-day disabled list because of concussion symptoms for the second time in under a month.