Royals-Twins Preview

KEVIN CHROUST (STATS Writer)
The Associated Press

James Shields hasn't lost in nearly two months, but the stretch of success has more to do with his teammates' offensive aptitude than any kind of sustained form on the mound.

He has a good opportunity to keep the streak going while also improving his own numbers Tuesday night in Minnesota as the Kansas City Royals take on the struggling Twins.

Shields (8-3, 3.79 ERA) last lost on May 2, but plenty of that has to do with a 7.03 run-support average over 10 starts to dress up his 5-0 record, 4.27 ERA and .304 opponent batting average.

His last three have been particularly poor with a 5.40 ERA and .317 average after surrendering four runs and seven hits in seven innings of Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The right-hander is 4-2 with a 3.05 ERA at Target Field. Joe Mauer, who has a season-best 11-game hitting streak, is batting .350 in 40 at-bats against Shields while Brian Dozier is hitting for the same average in 20 at-bats with two home runs and three doubles. Kendrys Morales is 1 for 12.

The Royals (43-39) opened the series with Monday's 6-1 win behind Alcides Escobar's career high-tying four RBIs. The shortstop went 2 for 4 to complete a month in which he hit .374. Escobar is batting .455 in his last 13 games against Twins pitching.

Winner of three of four, Kansas City is entering July with its best record since 2003 when it was 42-38.

"We're very confident in what we have in the tank," starter Danny Duffy said. "We've got a great offense, great lineup. The defense is always flashing the leather. When we go out there and make pitches, it's going to be a good night."

The Twins (37-44) have dropped six of seven with four runs scored in their last three games. After rookie Yohan Pino allowed four earned runs Monday, the Minnesota starting staff has a 7.89 ERA over eight games.

"We've been facing some pretty decent pitching, and I don't know if it's pressing," said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position and is 8 for 49 (.163) in the last six contests. "I just know we're just not getting enough big hits right now. We're not putting any runs on the board. A lot of pressure on our pitchers to be really good."

That's not such a good thing with Ricky Nolasco headed to the hill.

Nolasco (4-6, 5.74) remains MLB's worst pitcher in terms of ERA and opponent average (.322) among qualifying pitchers. His latest work was some of his worst, matching a season high with 11 hits allowed and six runs in six innings of Thursday's 6-4 road loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

The right-hander has been better at home with a 2-2 record and 3.57 ERA in six starts with one of those victories coming against Kansas City on April 12. His two career starts against the Royals have come this year and resulted in a 1-1 mark with a 3.95 ERA. Omar Infante is 5 for 14 versus Nolasco while Escobar is 5 for 9.

Minnesota's Trevor Plouffe and Eduardo Nunez returned from injuries Monday after missing 14 games each. Nunez went 2 for 4 with an RBI to boost his average to .301. He's 7 for 18 with two home runs against Shields.

Twins outfielder Chris Parmelee is batting .459 during a 10-game hitting streak.