Athletics vs Royals Wild Card Game Preview
The Oakland Athletics will travel to play the Kansas City Royals in the American League Wild Card Game Tuesday night. First pitch is at 8:07 p.m. ET on TBS. Oakland will have ace Jon Lester on the mound, while Kansas City will have their ace James Shields. Let’s break down which team will have the edge.
Jon Lester and James Shields are both free agents after this season and will both be pitching for higher paychecks tomorrow. After being traded by the Red Sox to Oakland, Lester has put up a 2.32 era and is 6-4 in 11 starts. Combined this season Lester is 16-11 with a 2.46 era. The one thing that Lester has lacked with Oakland is run support, they will have a tough time winning in the playoffs if they can’t accumulate a few runs. Lester is a very good postseason pitcher, he is 6-4 in 11 starts with a 2.11 era. The best postseason for Lester was by far last season when he 4-1 with a 1.75 era, and helped lead the Red Sox to to win their third World Series title since 2004.
This is the first postseason appearance for James Shields since back-back disappointments against the Rangers in 2010 and 2011. The Rays lost the AL division series both years. Shields has not been a very good postseason pitcher, he is 2-4 with a 4.98 era in six starts. Shields did have a good regular season, going 14-8 in 34 starts with a 3.21 era. Lester does have the clear advantage now, but the Royals are a hot team and if Shields pitches like he did at the beginning of September then this game will be no contest.
The Royals and A’s both struggled to score run in September, and are the bottom two teams out of the 10 teams in the playoffs. Since the A’s traded away Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester we have seen their offense stumble. Oakland was fourth this season and runs scored with 729, most of those coming before the All Star Break. The A’s where also tenth in on base percentage, but like I said they have struggled since trading away Cespedes, and haven’t been the same team. Coco Crisp, Derek Norris, and Brandon Moss have all declined in the second half, and will have to turn it around if Oakland wants to win this game and advance further in the playoffs.
The Royals have the ability to hit the ball, they finished fourth in the league with a team batting average of .263. Kansas City bread and butter is their ability to steal bases, they lead the league this season with 153. Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain are the main threats to steal a base for the Royals, as those three combined for 95 of the 153 bases stole. The Royals don’t have a big bat in the lineup, with Alex Gordon leading the team with only 19 home runs. I do think that the Royals speed will have a huge effect in the game.
Oakland bullpen had a 2.91 era this season, which is the third best in all of baseball. That was led by their two very good right-handed setup men, Luke Gregerson, and Dan Otero, and Ryan Cook had a better second half of the season after an inconsistent first half. Oakland closer Sean Doolittle just came back from the DL a few week ago, after sustaining an intercostal strain on August 23. Doolittle finished the season with 22 saves and finished with a 2.73 era, he did blow four saves this season.
Kansas City bullpen had a 3.30 era and finished tenth this season. The Royals do arguably have the best 7-8-9 trio in baseball with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland. Greg Holland is one of the best closers in baseball, he posted a 1.44 era this season with 46 saves, he only had two blown saves this season in 48 attempts. If James Shields can at least go six innings with the lead or a tie, the Royals will be in very good shape. The Kansas City trio might be what wins it for the Royals.
The clear advantage here goes to the Royals, and I base that solely on speed. It’s very unusual to use a pinch hitter in the playoffs for an American League team. The Royals have Jarrod Dyson and Terrance Gore for speed, and if they do need pinch hitter they have veterans Josh Willingham (who will retire after the season ends) and Raul Ibanez. The A’s use a more balanced bench because of the platoons the use, but their issue is they have so many players slumping right now. They do have veteran Johnny Gomes and Craig Gentry will probably be on the bench. The A’s will stick with start as many lefties as they can to counter against right handed James Shields, and a right handed bullpen.
Oakland’s Bob Melvin has done a phenomenal job the last three seasons, if you don’t count the second half of this season. Melvin in 325-260 since becoming the A’s manager in 2011. Oakland lost in the ALDS to the Tigers last season in five games.
Kansas City’s Ned Yost has been the manager of the Royals since 2010, his record so far is 373-402. He took over for a team that before last week hadn’t been to the postseason since 1985. This will be the first postseason that Yost has ever managed in.