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updated: 9/15/2013 10:53 PM

Royals still team worth rooting for

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  • Starting pitcher James Shields' value to the Kansas City Royals has been evident all season.

      Starting pitcher James Shields' value to the Kansas City Royals has been evident all season.
    Associated Press

 
 

I usually can be counted on to help lead a charge every September. It is the baseball devotee's job to rage against the dying of the light that is the dwindling sports fan attention span.

We resent that football, with violent nonchalance, pushes baseball to go gently into that good night.

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With all due respect to Dylan Thomas, this year has been harder than ever to burn and rave.

The locals have faded into, predominantly, irrelevance.

We watch when Erik Johnson starts for the White Sox, with that glorious fastball reaching 96. We see the defense fall apart behind him, watch him trail and lose undeservedly. We look forward to his deserved shot to be a rotation guy next spring.

We watch when Junior Lake bats for the Cubs. He continues to prove much more capable than expected as a utility defensive player with some genuine pop.

We watch when Scott Baker has a couple of excellent games for the Cubs, well past the trading deadline when he would have had value as a "sign and flip."

Treats go by, often unobserved. Chris Sale outpitched Max Scherzer at the Cell last Monday, in a battle of Cy Young contenders seen by 6,000 people.

Our teams have played their way into being ignored. It's a head-shaking shame.

So we look nationally for intrigue, and I wrote last week about how difficult it was to find.

But a funny thing happened on the way to a boring September.

The Rangers' offense fell apart.

Texas has won just two games this month. Matt Garza has been bad, Yu Darvish has gotten no run support, and the whole team just can't seem to hit with men in scoring position. They're 12th in batting average with RISP in the AL.

As they flail away toward autumn, six teams suddenly are within a few games of both wild-card spots in the American League.

I find myself rooting for a team that went for it last winter.

The Kansas City Royals still a longshot, but you can't blame James Shields for that. Shields has been terrific, keeping his team in virtually every game he throws. His 24 quality starts top the AL, just 1 behind Clayton Kershaw's major-league-leading 25.

I respected the Royals' trade for Shields, even though I understood they had given up one of the top three prospects in the game at the time. Wil Myers has not disappointed in his new home, with a slash line of .292/.353/.469 as a Tampa Bay Ray.

It was a controversial deal. A young hitter like Myers could be absolute gold. He may be productive for years, at an incredible bargain.

But two years of James Shields has value, and it has shown itself all season. He immediately brought veteran leadership and an ace-like presence to a young locker room.

Even if you're one who thinks those buzzword-ish concepts are specious (I do not), feel free to limit it to this: Shields gives his team a chance every fifth day, and probably will do so next year as well.

This trade serves also as a template for the position the Cubs may be in, sooner rather than later. They'll have to pick which of their now plentiful prospects they believe they can live without, and then deal him for top-tier pitching talent.

Parting with a Jorge Soler or an Albert Almora is a scary thing to consider. But it's probably a better plan than dropping $100 million free-agent dollars, no matter how dependable you think the arm in question may be.

Will the Royals sneak in this year? Maybe not. Will they have another solid chance next year with Shields entrenched again? Absolutely.

I find myself hoping their efforts get rewarded. You have to go for it sometime.

•Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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