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Big games ahead for James Shields

Posted: August 13, 2014 10:45 p.m.
Updated: August 13, 2014 10:45 p.m.

Hart graduate and Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) celebrates his complete game shutout against the San Francisco Giants with manager Ned Yost after Saturday's game in Kansas City, Mo.

If ever a time a team needed Hart High graduate James Shields to be “Big Game James,” it’s right now.

The postseason-starved Kansas City Royals will be riding Shields into the final 43 games of the year and during a pennant race.

The Royals haven’t reached the Major League Baseball postseason since they won the World Series in 1985.

Kansas City surprisingly leads big-spending Detroit by a half game for the American League Central lead.

“It’s really exciting. This city’s been wanting a playoff team for a long time,” Shields said. “The fact that we’re in the hunt, obviously we have a long way to go, but it’s exciting for the city.”

Lately, and if one looks at the entire season to this point, Shields has lived up to the “Big Game” nickname and has been a significant part of the Royals’ success.

Shields is 11-6 with a 3.25 ERA, 1.208 WHIP and 132 strikeouts in 166 1/3 innings.

For the fourth consecutive season, Shields ranks in Major League Baseball’s top 10 in innings pitched.

His durability and dependability are significant reasons why the Royals dealt their top prospect Wil Myers in a multiplayer trade for Shields prior to the 2013 season.

Sabermatricians will ignore his personal win-loss record and say that won’t tell you Shields’ value for the Royals the last two seasons.

However, the team’s 36-23 mark (.610 winning percentage) will speak to that value.

The hope for Kansas City is that the trend continues.

Yet there was a point during this season when Shields had trouble building momentum.

Between May 29 and July 1 (seven starts), he pitched 43 1/3 innings, allowed 27 earned runs (5.61 ERA), surrendered eight earned runs and opposing hitters weren’t just putting the ball in play, they were having success with a .338 batting average on balls in play.

After a poor start against last-place Minnesota on July 1, Shields has been on a tear.

From July 7 to his last start last Saturday against the San Francisco Giants (seven starts), he has allowed nine earned runs in 49 2/3 innings (1.63 ERA) and hitters have a .257 average on balls in play.

On Saturday, he pitched a four-hit, complete-game shutout against the San Francisco Giants. He walked just one batter.

Shields said he hasn’t put any pressure on himself this season, despite pending free agency after the season.

He will be considered one of the top arms on the market and a solid season will equal a large payday. He said, even in the lean times this season, it wasn’t in his mind.

“To be honest with you I haven’t. I haven’t even really thought about it,” Shields said. “The way I think of it is this is my ninth season in the big leagues. I played a long time. People realize what I’m capable of doing. Obviously I have to produce going into my free-agent year. But I’m really not too worried about it. I just go out there and pitch my game and whatever will happen will happen.”

After Kansas City finishes its series with Oakland, 15 of its 16 remaining August games are against teams with a combined .432 winning percentage — meaning this month is the time for the Royals to build.

The Royals face Detroit six times in September.

Shields will start today’s game against Oakland and is expected to start nine times until the end of the regular season.

“The expectations for myself for the last couple of months are the same as always — go out and give my team a chance to win every five days. And that’s all I really can do. It’s my job to minimize the damage and get this team some wins. There are a lot of expectations. I’m willing to take those expectations on.”


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