Ever since he and his Tampa Bay Rays team exploded on the scene in 2008, James Shields has had the reputation for pitching his best in the most important games. That was a large reason why the Royals were willing to part with both Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi to bring him to Kansas City last offseason.
The trade has helped put the Royals in position to make the post-season for the first time in just about anyone under 30's lifetime. But he might have to win the most pivotal game along the way today against the Detroit Tigers.
The big-spending Tigers have played much of the last month looking up in the standings at Kansas City. That was, at least until last night when Detroit finally made up the two games that separated it and KC. And after winning the first two games in a three-game set at Comerica Park this week, the Tigers look for a sweep with first place on the line. But they will certainly have to earn it against James Shields.
The Royals' ace takes the ball looking for his 10th consecutive start of throwing at least six innings. Shields has dominated in his last two outings - giving up just one run in 15.1 innings pitched against the Yankees and Indians. He's given up just eight hits and a single walk over those 15.1 frames.
But the Tigers have been a bit of a kryptonite for Shields this season, as they have been for the entire Kansas City team. In three starts against the divisional opponent, Shields is 0-2 and the Royals have lost all three. He pitched well in two of those starts, however.
On opening day, Shields tossed 6.1 innings in a quality start where he allowed just three runs. And then he lost a tough game in July when he gave up two runs in seven innings. His offense only mustered one run in support, though.
That could be the case again today, when Rick Porcello goes for Detroit. The Tigers' fifth starter (when everyone is healthy) has compiled a 15-10 record this year with a 3.30 ERA and WHIP under 1.20. But he has lost his last two starts - giving up 12 runs in just over nine innings of work, combined. The Royals hope to make it three and get back on top of the Tigers ahead of the home stretch.
These two teams do play once more - another three-game set, but in Kansas City. Shields is slated to pitch the finale of that series, too. On Sunday, September 21 against Max Scherzer.