I didn't think he was the "missing piece" the Sox needed to push themselves into contention in the American League, and I still don't think that. As I type here today, the Sox (50-50) still are the same mediocre team they were the day Shields was acquired.
That said, let's give Shields his credit for pulling it together after a historically bad beginning to his tenure with the Sox. He's made 10 starts since joining the South Siders, and there's a clear line of demarcation between the first four starts and the last six. None of his first four starts were quality, but all of his last six have been.
Shields' first four starts with Sox: 13.2 IP, 29 H, 25 R, 24 ER, 8 Ks, 13 BBs, 5 HRs, 15.80 ERA
Shields' last six starts with Sox: 42 IP, 32 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 20 Ks, 12 BBs, 5 HRs, 1.71 ERA
Tuesday's outing was Shields' best since the trade. He fired 7.2 innings of four-hit, shutout ball to lead the Sox to a 3-0 victory over the Cubs. He struck out five and walked four, which is a few too many walks, but it almost seemed to be by design. Shields has been hurt by the home run ball a lot this season, and it appeared he just decided he wasn't going to give in to the Cubs hitters on the rare occasions he was behind in the count. He was sooner going to walk somebody than just lay one in and risk giving up a home run.
The strategy paid off, as the Cubs were limited to just four singles and couldn't come through on the occasions when they did get a runner in scoring position.
The recent stretch of good pitching has rebuilt Shields' trade value, and there are rumors now that the Sox might flip him for prospects sometime this week. If indeed the Sox have decided they are not in the race for this year, moving Shields now would be the correct call.
The Sox hitters on Tuesday were facing the Cubs' hottest pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, who entered the game with a streak of 22.1 innings without allowing an earned run. That ended quickly, as the Sox got on the board in the first inning. Jose Abreu's single scored Adam Eaton, who had drawn a leadoff walk.
Eaton added to the lead in the fifth with a solo home run -- his seventh of the season. The Sox completed the scoring with a run in the sixth. Hendricks departed after giving up a soft single to Todd Frazier. Cubs reliever Travis Wood gifted the Sox a run by walking three consecutive batters. Tyler Saladino's bases-loaded walk forced home a run to make it 3-0.
This time, the Sox had their two best relievers available to protect a late lead. Nate Jones recorded the final out of the eighth, and David Robertson worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 24th save of the season.
The win keeps the Crosstown Cup on the South Side for the third consecutive season. The Cubs still have a chance to even the season series if they can win both games at Wrigley Field this week, but in the event of a tie, the team that won the Crosstown Cup the previous season keeps it. For that reason, the Sox were awarded the trophy Tuesday night after the game.
I don't often say much about the Cubs on this blog, because I prefer not to attract trolls. But I was noticing their record is 59-40 entering Wednesday's play, and I remember them starting the season 25-6. A little quick math tells me the Cubs are a .500 team over their last 68 games (34-34).
The narrative around Chicago has been that the Cubs are an elite team, that they are enjoying a magical season, and that they are on the brink of history. For those first 31 games, they sure looked pretty damn good. But in these first two games against the Sox, they have been ordinary, and based on their .500 record over a 68-game period, they've been ordinary for a while.
The Sox are starting a Triple-A pitcher (Anthony Ranaudo) Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, and I won't be surprised if the Cubs light him up. That said, I have been surprised at how well the mediocre Sox have done so far against the highly regarded Cubs. A lot of folks seemed to believe the Sox would be overmatched in this series. That has not been the case to this point.
Miguel Gonzalez and Shields were better than Jake Arrieta and Hendricks, and that's been the difference so far.