Even though the Royals have stumbled of late -- dropping three of four against the Tigers in their final series heading into the All-Star break -- they have reason to be optimistic.
After all, in 2013, Kansas City lost five straight going into the break and came roaring back. The Royals won 19 of their first 24 games after the break and jumped right into contention for an American League Wild Card berth. This year, they'll look to get on another roll when they open a three-game set on Friday at Fenway Park.
"We have the most confidence in our ability right now. We're still hanging in there, but we have a lot of good baseball left," said ace James Shields, who will start the first game against the Red Sox.
Shields lost to the Tigers last Saturday despite holding them to two runs in seven innings. After years of AL East competition with Tampa Bay, Shields has won seven straight decisions and is 8-2 against the AL East in a Kansas City uniform.
Opposing Shields will be Clay Buchholz. Boston shuffled its rotation, which will now go Buchholz, Rubby De La Rosa, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.
"The two guys with the least amount of innings so far are going to lead us coming out of the break," manager John Farrell said. "There's only going to be an additional day for Lester or Lackey, then we looked at the matchups and this might be the best combo of things coming out of the break."
On Sunday against the Astros, Buchholz enjoyed his best start of the year, throwing a three-hit shutout with a career-high 12 strikeouts.
"Today was reminiscent of the first half of last year before he went on the disabled list," Farrell said. "Very much in control and could go to any one of four pitches at any time in the count."
"It's night and day," Buchholz said of being able to throw all four pitches. "It's tough going out in a big league baseball game and having two pitches. I've done a lot of work to get command of those pitches and it's finally paying off a little bit."
Red Sox: Victorino may be back Friday
Outfielder Shane Victorino could finally rejoin the Red Sox following the break, Farrell said on Sunday. Victorino last played on May 23 and has been recovering from a strained right hamstring and a slipped disc in his back.
Victorino was scheduled to play for Double-A Portland on Saturday, but the Red Sox medical staff decided to give him the day off. He played on Sunday for the Class A Lowell Spinners, who were at Fenway Park. This is his second rehab assignment since hitting the disabled list in May with the same strained hamstring that caused him to miss the first 22 games of the season.
Farrell and the club hoped to have Victorino back during a West Coast trip in June, but he suffered a slipped disc while playing for Triple-A Pawtucket that ended that assignment.
"We're hopeful at some point coming out of the break on the weekend that he'd be back to us," Farrell said. "That's still up for review."
Royals: Gordon eyeing Fenway return
Left fielder Alex Gordon missed the four-game series with Detroit before the break and will miss the All-Star Game because of a sprained right wrist. But the Royals hope to have him back in the lineup against Boston.
"That's what we're shooting for," manager Ned Yost said on Sunday. "It doesn't matter how he's feeling right now. He's been told to not even test it and he's been really good about it. He's a guy you've got to keep your eye on because he's always [working].
"But we told him we don't even want him touching a bat until he comes back. So these eight days should put him in line to be in pretty good position to come back. We'll see."
Fenway Park is one of Gordon's favorite venues. He's hit .386 (27-for-70) there with 12 doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs in 18 games.
• Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is hitting .316 (18-for-57) against Shields with three homers and 16 RBIs.
• The Red Sox (43-52) own a winning percentage of .453, which is their worst percentage before the All-Star break since 1997, when the club was 38-48 (.442).
Steve Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.