The final meeting between the Rangers and Royals for 2013 features serious American League Wild Card implications, which makes it the rubber match of the season for both clubs.
James Shields, the leader of a revamped rotation that has been so key to the Royals' resurgence, will take the ball for the Royals against Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando in Sunday's finale.
The Rangers held on for a 3-1 victory Saturday that kept them at a half-game behind the No. 2 Wild Card spot, with the Royals now standing 3 1/2 out of that playoff spot with eight to play.
For Texas manager Ron Washington, whose team had dropped nine of its previous 11 before Saturday's win, anything to get the Rangers headed in the right direction was what they needed this weekend.
"I just want there to be a spark. I don't care if there is a spark if they are playing behind or if they are ahead. I just want there to be a spark," Washington said.
Shields will be going for career win No. 100, but his focus will be on his next opportunity to push the Royals into the playoffs for the first time since they won the World Series in 1985. The veteran right-hander leads the AL with 25 quality starts and 213 2/3 innings heading into this start, and he's part of the first trio of Royals pitchers with 200-plus innings since 1997.
"Going into Spring Training, our goal was to have 1,000 innings from our starting rotation," manager Ned Yost said. "It's extremely important for your starters to do that. It keeps them strong. It keeps them sharp, and it keeps the bullpen strong and healthy."
Shields' career 2.66 ERA against Texas in 12 starts is best among 37 active pitchers with at least 10 starts against the Rangers.
Ogando makes his second start since coming off the disabled list, where he'd been since Aug. 20 with right shoulder inflammation. Ogando pitched well in his last start against the Rays, and the Rangers are hoping for 80 pitches out of him.
"Hopefully we'll see the same thing we saw in Tampa Bay, pound the strike zone and let it all hang out," Washington said. "Just attack like he did in Tampa. We'd like to see it again."
Rangers: Give them a triple
The hit that got the Rangers started Saturday was a rare one -- the first leadoff triple to begin a game since May 26, 2009, that one also by Ian Kinsler. His triple turned into the game's first run one batter later, and the Rangers went on to victory.
It was the Rangers' first triple in the first inning this season, the last one coming when Adrian Beltre tripled in the first on Aug. 24, 2012, vs. Minnesota.
Royals: Pitching's partner strong, too
Aside from having the best ERA in the AL, the Royals rank sixth in the league with a .986 fielding percentage after ranking 13th a year ago, so they've held their own in another key aspect of playing contending baseball.
"That's how you can go into a seven-game series and win a seven-game series, with defense and pitching," Yost said. "All our games are going to be close, that's just the way it is."
• The Rangers lead the six-game season series, 3-2, and have won eight of the last 11 meetings between the clubs.
• After Sunday's home finale for the Royals, they'll head on the road to meet the Mariners for three, including a Wednesday night game that will make for a short turnaround before they head to Chicago to meet the White Sox for four.
• The Rangers will host Houston for three and the Angels for four to conclude the regular season.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.