Royals-Blue Jays Preview
The Toronto Blue Jays are two victories shy of matching the franchise's longest winning streak. But their torrid stretch could be in jeopardy against Kansas City's James Shields, who has been about as tough as any pitcher in baseball versus Toronto over the last three years.
Toronto aims for a 10th straight victory Thursday night as it hosts the slumping Royals in the opener of a four-game set.
By wrapping up a third straight series sweep with a 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday, the Blue Jays (32-22) pushed their win streak to nine. Their pitching staff owns a 3.00 ERA during the run, Jose Reyes is hitting .370 during an 11-game hitting streak and Edwin Encarnacion has 14 RBIs over his last 10 contests.
They needed some luck Wednesday, however, with pinch-runner Kevin Pillar scoring the winning run in the ninth on a throwing error by reliever Juan Carlos Oviedo.
The Blue Jays, who have won 11 in a row three times in franchise history - most recently last June - had homered in each of the first eight games of this streak, totaling 17.
"We can do more than just hit home runs to win games," Pillar said.
Shields (6-3, 2.95 ERA) has proven dominant in recent years against Toronto, going 6-1 over his last eight matchups with a 1.13 ERA - the lowest among pitchers with at least five starts against the Blue Jays since the start of 2011. He's also tossed two complete games in his last three at Rogers Centre.
Encarnacion has just one homer in 29 at-bats against Shields with eight strikeouts.
Shields failed to record a win for just the second time in eight starts Saturday, after allowing four runs and nine hits over six innings in a 7-4, 13-inning victory over the Angels.
The Royals (24-28) could use a strong showing from Shields, as their 4-9 record since May 15 is baseball's second-worst. After scoring three runs or fewer in four straight, they're one loss away from matching a season-worst five-game skid.
Kansas City was 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position in Wednesday's 9-3 home loss to Houston. Brett Hayes' homer was just the team's third in 14 games, and the Royals' 21 are the fewest in baseball - 55 less than major league-leading Toronto.
Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler are a combined 3 for 29 during the skid with one RBI.
"We've got a team that is underperforming offensively," manager Ned Yost said. "When they start to perform to their level is when we are going to start producing wins and getting on a bit of a run. You got to fight through it, and stay calm."
Trying to shake things up, the Royals juggled their coaching staff before Thursday's game. Kansas City appointed Dale Sveum as the hitting coach and made Mike Jirschele its third base coach.
Pedro Grifol, who took over as hitting coach last season, will now instruct catchers.
Sveum might not have to say much to get Hosmer going in this series. The first baseman is a career .341 hitter against Toronto - his highest average against opponent he's played at least six times - and has 10 RBIs over his last eight matchups.
Butler is just 7 for 57 in 17 games against the Blue Jays since 2012, though he was 5 for 11 as Kansas City took two of three from April 29-May 1.
Toronto's R.A. Dickey (5-4, 3.95) take the ball coming off his best outing of the year, yielding two runs and five hits over a season-best 8 1-3 innings in Sunday's 5-2 win over Oakland. He is 4-1 with a 2.52 ERA over his last six starts.
Dickey recorded a 1.88 ERA in winning both of his starts versus Kansas City last year.
The Royals have won just one of their last 12 series in Toronto dating to 2003.