The Royals send their ace to the hill Sunday as they attempt to continue a recent hot streak.
Kansas City clobbered the White Sox on Saturday, 9-1, as the Royals earned their season-high sixth straight win. The victory also put them at three games over .500 (35-32) for the first time this season. At the start of the month, Kansas City was 6 1/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central. Just one week ago, the gap between the two teams was five games.
Now, the Royals sit just 1 1/2 games behind the Tigers.
"We just kept playing our game. We didn't really change anything. We know we're a good team, we know hits are going to fall at some point, we know we're going to score runs and we know that our pitching going to do their job," Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas said. "As long as we go out and continuously play the game as hard as we do, we'll be in good shape."
Shields (7-3, 3.44 ERA) has not been at his sharpest of late. In his last three starts (18 1/3 innings), he's allowed 11 earned runs and 23 hits.
However, Shields looked solid last Sunday against the Yankees, letting just one unearned run cross in six innings.
The AL Central has been defined by its competitiveness this season, with all five teams in the hunt. Sunday's loss dropped Chicago to last place, but the White Sox still only trail Detroit by 4 ½ games.
"I think that's what the Wild Card was intended for, to be able to have a lot of teams and cities be in the running for a playoff spot," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It's fun. I think that was the intent of the whole thing."
Chicago sends out Andre Rienzo to oppose Shields. His start was skipped Wednesday after Tuesday's game was rained out and John Danks was pushed back to Wednesday.
Rienzo has gone 0-3 with a 9.00 ERA over his last three starts after going 4-0 with a 4.11 mark in his first six. Rienzo's third consecutive loss was in his last start on June 6 at the Angels, allowing a career-high seven runs on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings.
Royals: Valencia expected to start rehab assignment soon
Royals infielder Danny Valencia has been on the disabled list since June 1 with a sprained muscle in his left hand, but he is close to embarking on a rehab assignment, manager Ned Yost said.
"He'll take batting practice again and see how he's feeling," Yost said before Saturday's game. "If he passes his test, I imagine we'll look to get him out somewhere."
Valencia has put up a .246/.303/.348 line in 20 games (69 at-bats) for Kansas City this season.
White Sox: Flowers trying to shake off two-month funk
Since starting the season with a .354 average in April, Tyler Flowers entered Saturday's contest with 18 hits in his last 105 at-bats and 47 strikeouts in that span. Flowers talked Friday about the problem being a timing issue at the plate that he never really had addressed before in his career until recently.
Manager Robin Ventura spoke pregame Saturday about Flowers keeping it simple in trying to fight his way out of this prolonged slump.
"I think you get caught up in the mechanics and everything that goes with that, your head can go so many different ways, thinking about what you're trying to do before the guy even throws it," Ventura said. "You can't throw it out there, you can't steer it. All you can do is hit it. I think for every player, as simple as you can make it and then you work your way out of it.
With an 0-for-4, three-strikeout game on Saturday, Flowers is now hitless in his last 21 at bats with 18 strikeouts.
"It's really difficult. What makes playing baseball very hard is anybody can get a hit maybe once, but to come out here every single day and try and hit, that's the hardest part," Ventura said. "That's the stuff that will bring you to your knees, wear you down, not let you sleep at night, all those things. You just make it as simple as you possibly can to work your way out if it. I think that's where he's headed right now."
• Alcides Escobar extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games with a fourth-inning single.
• In 45 career at bats, Alexei Ramirez carries a .422/.458/.622 line against Shields.
Jackson Alexander is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.