The Royals came to Toronto hoping to build their postseason hopes higher, but they enter Sunday's series finale needing a win to spark those hopes back up again.
After dropping the first two games to the Blue Jays, the Royals need a big start, and that's why they got "Big Game" James Shields this past offseason in the first place. Shields will face lefty J.A. Happ in the final meeting between the two teams in 2013.
It'll be on Shields to set the tone to turn things around against the Jays, who scored three runs in the eighth and cut down the potential tying run trying to steal for the third out of the ninth in Saturday's 4-2 win. The Jays, who made at least as much noise as the Royals in the offseason, have had the Royals' number thus far, winning four of their first five meetings.
Shields is the guy the Royals want on the mound on Sunday, not only as their ace but also as a pitcher who has performed well against the Blue Jays in his career, and on the road this season.
Shields enters the game with the American League's No. 2 road ERA at 2.26, and he is 6-0 with a 1.97 ERA in his last seven road starts. Formerly with the Tampa Bay Rays, Shields is 11-6 with a 3.22 ERA vs. Toronto for his career and has complete games in his last two starts at Rogers Centre.
In his last outing, the veteran right-hander allowed just one run on four hits in 7 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit through seven innings.
While his personal 9-8 record doesn't reflect it, Shields feels good about how he's performed thus far, delivering 24 quality starts among his 29 outings.
"I feel like I've got a ton of quality starts this year and I feel like I've pitched well all year," Shields said. "The wins are going to come, but I'm not really too worried about it. As long as we win the game, I'm good to go."
Happ is good to go again following his return from the disabled list, having spent much of the season sidelined after being struck by a liner in a May start, sustaining a skull fracture but really needing time to rehab a knee injury from the play.
He's coming off back-to-back outings against the Yankees, both of them losses. In the last one, Happ allowed a four-run first before settling down and lasting into the fifth, giving up five earned runs on seven hits (two homers) in 4 2/3 innings.
"I can only speak for myself, but I know I can pitch better," Happ said after that one. "I'm going to try not to think about this one too much -- try not to over-analyze. I feel good. I'm healthy, and I feel like I'm throwing the ball well; I just need to take the next step. I feel like I can definitely do that. I'm looking forward to the rest of my starts."
Happ earned the victory on April 17 against the Royals despite allowing four earned runs in five innings. Shields lost to the Jays on April 13 despite going the distance, allowing three runs on just two hits.
Royals: Hosmer keeps raking
Eric Hosmer had his second straight two-hit game on Saturday, continuing one of the better months of his career.
He went 4-for-7 in the first two games of the series in Toronto, and he finish August batting .320 (40-for-125) with a .378 on-base percentage, the highest for any month of his career.
• Salvador Perez scored a run but went hitless on Friday, yet he's still put together a solid week. Perez has gone 8-for-20 with five runs, a double, three homers and eight RBIs, including a four-hit, two-homer game on Wednesday that was the first such game by a Royals catcher since Darrell Porter in 1977.
Blue Jays: Goins watch continues
Ryan Goins tied a franchise record Saturday by hitting in his eighth straight game to start his career, matching Jesse Barfield's streak way back in 1981. After going 1-for-4 Saturday, Goins is 12-for-30 since his promotion from Triple-A Buffalo, and he already has four multi-hit games.
"He's done everything for us in his limited time, offensively, defensively," Jays manager John Gibbons said. "He really has. He's got some big hits for us to set things up, ... He's doing everything. More than I expected if you want to know the truth."
• The Blue Jays have won 11 of the last 15 meetings with the Royals dating to 2011.
• Toronto is 13-14 vs. the AL Central with one three-game set remaining against the Twins. The Royals are 18-15 vs. the AL East and will wrap up their season vs. the division on Sunday.
• After Sunday's game, the Royals head home for a four-game series with the Seattle Mariners, starting with a Labor Day matchup against Felix Hernandez. The Blue Jays travel to Arizona for an Interleague series, also starting Monday.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.