It is that time of the year again. The 162 grind known as the Major League Baseball regular season is behind us. The Derek Jeter talk is behind us and the one game American League and National League wildcard games are here. On Tuesday the Oakland Athletics will play the Kansas City Royals. Then Wednesday the San Francisco Giants will play the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Three of the four teams in wildcard action played in the post-season last year, only the Royals are untested and return to the post-season after what we will call a small break. Let’s take a look at the American League Wildcard game. The National League Wildcard game will be broken down here.
American League Wildcard Game
Oakland Athletics vs Kansas City Royals
30 September, 8:07 PM EST
Oakland Athletics – Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46)
Kansas City Royals – James Shields (14-8, 3.21)
The Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals are set to face off in a one game battle with the American League Division Series lying in the balance. The Athletics stumbled their way into the post-season with a 10-16 September record that was only a microcosm of their late summer struggles. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals came home with a 14-12 September record. That is nothing to write home about either. The Royals were 5-2 against the Athletics this year but it should be noted that Oakland outscored them.
Both starters gave up three earned runs in their last starts but Lester (2.00) and Shields (2.31) have pitched well in September. Both starters have post-season experience and neither will be flustered or worried when they take the mound in what equates to a one game playoff.
Oakland scored almost 80 more runs than the Royals and hit 50 more home runs that the boys from Kansas City (Last in the AL). Meanwhile the Royals stole 70 more bases than Oakland and hit 20 points higher than Oakland in 2014. All of that equates to about nothing in a one game scenario.
This game comes down to four things. First, Lester against Shields. Who can go longer in the game and manage a quality start? While obvious it is a clear key to setting the stage. Secondly, the bullpens are key. Oakland will need a lead before the seventh inning if they want to avoid the buzz saw that is Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland. Oakland has a solid bullpen as well who statistically led the AL in ERA, opponents batting average and total bases.
The battle of the designated hitters comes in third with Adam Dunn of the Athletics against Billy Butler of the Royals. Butler has been hot as of late with hits in eight of his last ten with five games of the multi-hit variety. Dunn, not known for average can change the game with one swing of the bat. Butler is 0-for-9 against Lester in his career while Dunn is hitting .200 lifetime against Shields with one home run.
Finally, it is a battle of the third basemen in Josh Donaldson and Mike Moustakas. Donaldson ended 2014 with a stat line similar to his 2013 season which brought him into the national spotlight. His average is 46 points lower than it is was in 2013 but he is capable of hitting one out at any time. He needs to wake up this post-season unlike his 3-for-21 last year. Moustakas is joining many Royals with a first time post-season trip. The Royals will be counting on him but he is going to have to turn around his 2-for-22 against Oakland and hitless streak against Lester.
While it is a great feel good story in Kansas City and the Athletics have backed their way into the post-season, it is their third consecutive trip and Lester is out to prove something. This might be a different story if it was a best of five series but in a one game scenario and with Lester on the mound, it would be a real shocker to not see Oakland advance.