If the Royals are to make a desperate push in the race for the American League Central title, they'll need James Shields to pitch like an ace.
Problem is, he has pitched like an ace for much of the season. It just hasn't always translated to Kansas City victories.
Shields enters his start against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on Friday at 4-7 despite a 3.24 ERA and 16 quality starts in 21 outings. The Royals are 11-10 when he toes the rubber, but the right-hander has submitted a quality start in eight of the 10 defeats.
In fact, Shields has posted a better ERA (2.96) in Royals losses than he has in Royals wins (3.52).
The good news for the Royals is that they're finally through a 20-game stretch against five teams who were a combined 47 games above .500. Kansas City went 10-10 with series victories over Detroit and Baltimore.
"Going into it, we wanted to get through this 20-game stretch and keep our head above water. You go back over the 20 games and we lost three games late in Cleveland and that killed us," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Aside from that one series, we've played pretty good baseball against some very tough teams. I felt that it was important for us to play well during that 20-game stretch. We've had games we wish we could have back and we've played some really good, exciting games against some good teams."
The White Sox have had mixed results against Shields in the past. The 31-year-old is 3-4 with a 4.27 ERA in 14 outings against the South Siders in his career and 0-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts against them this season.
Paul Konerko totes just a .152 average (5-for-33) against Shields. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, on the other hand, is a career .375 hitter (12-for-32) against the veteran.
Second baseman Gordon Beckham has also fared well against Shields, having logged seven hits in 20 at-bats (.350 average). Beckham, though, has missed the past five games with a strained ligament in his left wrist. Manager Robin Ventura hinted that Beckham may return to the lineup for Friday's series opener.
Ventura reported that Beckham took some ground balls and is feeling a bit better.
"It's progressed enough to where you can kind of see him playing in the next couple days," Ventura said.
Jose Quintana is slated to take the hill for Chicago on Friday. The southpaw did not factor into the decision in either of his two previous starts against the Royals this season. Quintana (5-2, 3.61 ERA) defeated Atlanta on Sunday, when he held the Braves to one run over 5 2/3 frames.
Royals: Grifol named hitting coach
• After two months as interim hitting coach, George Brett -- Kansas City's all-time hits leader -- is returning to his previous position as vice president of baseball operations for the organization.
Pedro Grifol, who was serving as a Major League special assignment coach, takes over for Brett, who bid an emotion farewell on Thursday to his 56-day stint as the Royals' hitting coach.
"It's been a tremendous, tremendous experience for me after being gone for 20 years from the game -- to have an opportunity again, to put on a uniform" -- and here his voice quavered with emotion -- "it was special," Brett said.
White Sox: Crain suffers setback
Reliever Jesse Crain has posted a 0.74 ERA in 38 appearances this season, but it might be a bit longer before he can help the White Sox -- or another team. The right-hander, a Trade Deadline target for teams looking for bullpen help, has been on the disabled list for nearly a month with a right shoulder strain. He played catch on Thursday and said afterward that "it definitely wasn't better today."
"It's just something that never quite warmed up and it didn't feel good playing catch, let alone getting off a mound," Crain said.
• The White Sox have won five of nine meetings with the Royals this season.
• The White Sox are 7-2 when catcher Tyler Flower homers.
• Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games.