Quite a change from 2012, when the Royals finished 10th at 4.30, far behind the leading 3.19 posted by Shields' Tampa Bay club.
"Last year we struggled," Royals starting pitcher Luis Mendoza said. "But it's good to turn the page. Shields and [Ervin] Santana have been helping a lot and having a great season -- [Jeremy] Guthrie, too. My part is just to keep doing what they're doing. Every time they do good, I try to do the same thing."
Going into Wednesday's game, the Royals' starters ranked third in AL ERA at 3.76 (Detroit was first at 3.46) and their relievers were first with a 2.81 ERA.
"Actually, I hear the bullpen has the least innings thrown, too, so they talk about the starting rotation, but the bullpen has the lowest ERA in the league. So that's a great combination for the team," Mendoza said.
The bullpen's 157 innings before Wednesday's game was, indeed, the lowest total in the AL. That should pay off down the stretch.
"In the second half, sometimes [the starters] need more from the bullpen, because our arms get tired and it's good to save the bullpen. I know they're going to be ready when we need them," Mendoza said.
Manager Ned Yost isn't too concerned, though, about the Royals rotation wearing down late in the season.
"I think we've got some pretty durable guys and some workhorses who have been workhorses throughout their career -- Guthrie, Santana, Shields," Yost said.
Shields went into Wednesday's game with 93 innings, Guthrie had 85 and Santana 84 1/3. Mendoza missed a couple of starts, so he has just 58 innings. Among the full-timers, Wade Davis is the lowest with 68 2/3 innings, but the Royals have been cautious with his him because he pitched all of last season in relief.
"Davis is just getting back in the swing of [being a starter]," Yost said. "We kind of figured that he'd be getting better as the season went along. And he was really good [Tuesday] night."