After a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday afternoon the Kansas City Royals are now 77-69 and sit a mere 2.5 games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. Yes, you did read that right; the Kansas City Royals, the same franchise that has not made the playoffs since 1986, are only 2.5 games out of the playoffs on September 11.
Surely when reading that mind boggling statement the mind began to wonder what person could have made the team turnaround suddenly during the 2013 season, and there is one good answer to that question. The acquisition of James Shields from the Tampa Bay Rays has been the difference for the Royals, providing the team with a true ace to help transform a rotation that hamstrung the team in 2012 to a strength and guiding force during the 2013 season.
In the addition of Shields the Royals added a pitcher that threw 200 or more innings in every season from 2007-2012, bringing in a guaranteed innings eater to a rotation that only had three pitchers throw more than 100 innings during the 2012 season. During this time period Shields also developed a reputation as a bulldog on the mound, as he took no fear with him too the mound no matter who the other pitcher he was going up against was or whether a Hall of Fame hitter was at the plate. This production and mentality have both been brought to the Royals during the 2013 season, with Shields sporting a stat line of 11-9 with a 3.38 ERA and 207.2 innings pitched after Wednesday’s win against the Indians. This is a great line of production, and while his win total is not the best, one must consider he has had to face other teams’ number one starters when pitching.
As a result of Shields taking the number one spot in the Royals rotation we have also seen starters Jeremy Guthrie, Ervin Santana, and Bruce Chen improve their ERA during 2013 by an average of 1.58 over their 2012 marks. This is a remarkable improvement that can only be explained by the fact that every night any of these three takes the mound during the 2013 season they will not be expected to face another team’s best starter, and they have begun to undertake the same bulldog mentality that Shields takes to the mound. While one could argue that the improvement amongst these three starters comes directly back to Shields, it becomes evident when looking at the fact that the Royals’ team ERA went from 4.30 during the 2012 season to 3.53 that a fundamental change occurred within the Royals pitching staff.
The man known affectionately as “Big Game James” is the man responsible for this change, both for his ability to take pressure off of the rest of the Royals starting rotation and the bulldog mentality that he brings to the mound. It is unlikely that he will receive even a single vote for the AL MVP Award or the Cy Young, but he has been both of those for the Kansas City Royals during the 2013 season. And it is a sure bet that James Shields will be fine with receiving no recognition if he is starting in Kauffman Stadium this October.