CLEVELAND — The Royals hit the All-Star break showing some cracks.
Kansas City staggered into baseball’s unofficial midpoint Sunday with a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians, who swept the three-game series and pushed the third-place Royals eight games out of first place in the AL Central — their biggest deficit this season.
After opening a trip with two wins in New York, the Royals dropped two straight at Yankee Stadium before the Indians took three in a row from them.
“We’ve had a rough five games,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They can go take a break, regroup and hopefully come back and play more consistent baseball.”
Royals starter James Shields struggled from the outset. He made it through five innings and was in line for a win but Kansas City’s bullpen couldn’t protect a slim lead.
Shields allowed three runs and seven hits, but got his seventh no-decision in his past nine games. He hasn’t lost since May 27, but the right-hander has just two wins since then.
The Indians made him work hard — he threw 113 pitches — and the Royals again failed to score enough runs to make Shields a winner. Kansas City has scored nine total runs in his six losses.
“I don’t feel like I struggled,” Shields said. “I threw some really good pitches. I think I threw three changeups that probably would have hit the dirt, and they got base hits on them. They probably had about 20 foul-offs. That’s a good team over there. They work really good at-bats.”
Asdrubal Cabrera hit a two-run double off Tim Collins (2-5) to cap Cleveland’s comeback in the sixth inning as the Indians charged into the break with their fifth win in six games.
Cleveland has its most wins (51) at the All-Star break since 2007 — the last time the Indians made the playoffs.
Reliever Rich Hill (1-1) got two outs in the sixth and closer Chris Perez — Cleveland’s fifth reliever — worked the ninth for his 13th save as the Indians improved to 43-1 when leading after eight.
Billy Butler had three hits for the Royals (43-49), who are 10-15 in their past 25. They will be represented at Tuesday’s All-Star game in New York by outfielder Alex Gordon, catcher Salvador Perez and closer Greg Holland, who was added to the AL roster on Sunday.
With the Royals clinging to a 4-3 lead, Collins, who also took the loss in Friday’s series opener, walked Lonnie Chisenhall leading off and Drew Stubbs singled. Michael Bourn sacrificed, and Cabrera, whose name has surfaced in trade rumors, drove a 1-0 pitch into the gap in right-center to put Cleveland back in front.
Kipnis followed with an RBI single off Everett Teaford to give the Indians a 6-4 lead.
Butler doubled leading off the seventh but was stranded, and the Royals got a one-out double in the ninth from Eric Hosmer before Perez struck out Butler and retired Salvador Perez on a grounder for the final out.
The Royals have four days to regroup before opening a three-game series at home against the Tigers.
“You never want to lose five in a row (but) I’m not too worried about it,” Shields said. “We’ve done a good job of grinding this first half. It definitely could be a lot worse and it definitely could be a lot better. Right now we need to kick it in gear and string together some wins.”
Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez didn’t get through the fifth inning, his shortest start since June 7.
After the Indians took a 3-2 lead in the third, Jimenez let the Royals grab it back in the fourth on Johnny Giavotella’s RBI groundout and Alcides Escobar’s run-scoring single.
Jimenez walked the leadoff hitter in the fifth and was quickly pulled by Francona before things got worse. Reliever C.C. Lee made his major league debut and retired the Royals on three straight popups to keep the Indians within one.
Shields worked around a two-on, none-out jam in the second, but hurt himself with a one-out walk in the third when the Indians scored twice to take a 3-2 lead.
Jason Kipnis walked with one down and moved up on a groundout. Michael Brantley, who came in batting .382 with runners in scoring position, hit an RBI single to tie it 2-all. Santana then doubled inside the bag at first, and third-base coach Brad Mills never hesitated in waving Brantley home.
NOTES: Holland was a late addition to the AL's roster after Detroit's Justin Verlander, Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma and Oakland's Bartolo Colon pitched Sunday. Kansas City will have three representatives for the first time since 1988. ... Shields is 1-5 in his career against the Indians and has three no-decisions versus Cleveland this season. ... Royals RHP Wade Davis was activated from the paternity list and RHP J.C. Gutierrez was designated for assignment — on his 30th birthday. ... Collins fell to 0-4 with a 7.11 ERA in his career against Cleveland. ... Both Gordon and Perez are slumping as they head to Citi Field for the All-Star events. Gordon went 4 of 26 on the trip, Perez was only 2 for 23.