Royals-Red Sox Preview
By JEFF BARTL
(AP) -- It's been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals made the playoffs - a drought they're determined to end with some slight improvements in the second half.
That goal seems far more realistic than Boston's chances of reaching the postseason and defending its title, but the Red Sox haven't written off their season just yet.
James Shields takes the mound for the Royals as they visit Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox on Friday night.
Kansas City (48-46) hasn't been to the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985, and it begins the second half trailing Detroit by 6 1/2 games in the AL Central and Seattle by 2 1/2 for the second wild-card spot.
The Royals had dropped three of four to the Tigers entering the All-Star break, but they're still at a three-game improvement from where they were at this point last season. Following the 2013 break, they won 19 of 24 and went on to win 86 games - their most since going 92-70 in 1989.
"The last couple of years, we've been a good second-half team," manager Ned Yost said. "I think we've got our best baseball ahead of us."
The Red Sox (43-52) hope the same holds true for them. They're 15 wins below last season's 95-game mark and are tied with Tampa Bay for last in the AL East, 9 1/2 games behind first-place Baltimore.
Boston has scored the fewest runs in the AL after leading the majors in 2013.
"No one has given up anything. No one has conceded anything," manager John Farrell said. "After we get through Kansas City, I believe we have the next (13 games) against teams that are ahead of us. Each one has increasing significance."
The Red Sox could be getting a lift from Shane Victorino, who hasn't played since May 23 due to a strained right hamstring and a slipped disc in his back. He could return as early as this contest.
"We're hopeful at some point coming out of the break on the weekend that he'd be back to us," Farrell told MLB's official website.
Boston, which won four of five before the break, set a season high for runs in Sunday's 11-0 win over Houston and looks to keep it going as they face Shields, who has pitched well in each of his last two starts.
Shields (9-5, 3.65 ERA) struck out 10 in seven innings of a 6-0 win over Tampa Bay on June 7 before giving up two runs and striking out eight in seven innings of Saturday's 5-1 loss to Detroit.
The right-hander has gone seven innings in four of his last five outings, and he's expecting a solid second half from himself and the rest of the Royals.
"We're still hanging in there, but we have a lot of good baseball left," Shields said.
Shields is 3-2 with a 3.02 ERA in his last six starts against the Red Sox, who will counter with Buchholz as he seeks to build on his best outing of the season.
Buchholz (4-5, 5.42) pitched a three-hitter and struck out a career-high 12 in Sunday's win. He's 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA over his last four starts and is optimistic about the second half.
"We've got a lot of baseball to play," Buchholz said. "It doesn't really matter what your record is at the end of the year, just as long as you're at the top of the board."
The right-hander has won his last four starts against the Royals, posting a 1.35 ERA.
Updated July 17, 2014