Phenomenal starting pitching is a major reason the Kansas City Royals continue to surge, though their lineup proved it is capable of exceptional contributions, too.
Kansas City (57-52), which hasn't posted a winning record since finishing 83-79 in 2003, is surprising many by remaining in postseason contention into August. Winning 12 of its last 13 has helped that cause, with the starting rotation posting a 1.58 ERA during that stretch.
Jeremy Guthrie tossed a four-hitter Monday, but the Royals also tied a season best for runs scored in a 13-0 victory over the Twins. Eric Hosmer hit a three-run homer and finished with a career-best five RBIs, and Mike Moustakas tied a career high with four hits.
Kansas City has outscored opponents 67-25 during its tear.
''Quite frankly, (Monday) was probably the least stressful game that we've played all year long,'' manager Ned Yost said. ''It was literally a stress-free game. It was a combination of good pitching, solid defense and great hitting."
Shields (6-7, 3.08 ERA) hasn't given Yost much to complain about lately either, having gone 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA over his last five starts. He battled through five walks and allowed two runs in six innings of Thursday's 7-2 win over the Twins.
''We're playing some really good baseball and we believe in ourselves right now,'' Shields said. ''Going into this last two months, this is kind of the baseball we need to play.''
Shields is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA over his last four starts versus Minnesota, though Morneau (.371, three homers, six doubles) and Mauer (.353) each have had success in this matchup.
Morneau was hitting .412 over his previous four games before going 0 for 4 on Monday, and Mauer is just 3 for 18 over his last five. The Twins (48-61) have been outscored 46-24 while dropping five of eight.
It got so bad Monday that infielder Jamey Carroll made his first appearance on the mound in his 12-year career.
''I don't think we need to spend a lot of time talking about this one,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Minnesota may be able to catch the Royals off guard Tuesday as it sends Andrew Albers to the mound for his major league debut.
Albers went 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA in 22 starts for Triple-A Rochester, and Gardenhire is looking forward to seeing what he can do at the major league level.
"From just listening to (Rochester manager) Gene Glynn talk and guys that know him from around here, he's a competitor, a great guy for the club, a great clubhouse presence," Gardenhire told the team's official website. "He doesn't have a lot of velocity, but he really knows how to pitch. He can cut the ball in hard and locate the baseball."
The left-hander faced major leaguers while pitching for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic earlier this year.
"You realize that they're human, too," Albers said. "You've got to come up and do what got you here, pound the zone and throw strikes and be aggressive."
The Royals rank eighth in the majors hitting .260 against lefties.
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- Kansas City Royals
- Minnesota Twins
- James Shields
- Justin Morneau