Sep 24, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcherJon Lester
(31) pitches the ball against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
If you’re watching television, the analysts are more than likely picking the Kansas City Royals over the Oakland Athletics in Tuesday’s wild card game based solely on the fact that KC went 5-2 against Oakland this season. Sure, that happened, but it’s not the whole story. This is the whole story.
In August, when these two teams squared off, the Royals were white-hot. From August 1st through the 27th, the boys in blue went 19-6, and even tasted first place in the AL Central. Funny, they’re in this wild card game with Oakland, so something must have happened. What happened was they came back to Earth, and went 15-11 in September.
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Those measly two wins that the Oakland Athletics stole from the juggernaut that was Kansas City were started by none other than Jon Lester. The A’s outscored the Royals 19-6 in those two contests for good measure. Feeling better about the A’s chances now?
This season in three starts against KC, Lester went 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA, tossing 20 2/3 innings and allowing a total of six runs. Just because I can’t hear this stat enough, Lester’s career postseason ERA is 2.11. The pitcher he’ll be facing, James Shields holds a 4.98 mark. Shields may have the “Big Game” nickname, but Lester has the pedigree.
The player that Lester has to watch out for? Jayson Nix. Yes, Jayson Nix. Nix holds a career .308 batting average (8-for-26) with three home runs. Eric Hosmer and Raul Ibanez each have one dinger. That is the list of game-changers against Lester.
The killjoy for Royals’ fans comes in the form of the Oakland Athletics’ hottest hitter entering Tuesday: Josh Reddick. Red is batting .318 (7-for-22) against Shields in his career, and has three bombs off the righty. Josh Donaldson and Adam Dunn round out the A’s “Goin’ Yard” list with one each.
Moving ahead to the ninth inning, both closers have been solid against the opposition. Greg Holland (1-3) totaled 46 saves for Kansas City this season, with a 1.44 ERA and two blown saves. Sean Doolittle (2-4) on the other hand, had four blown saves en route to a 2.73 ERA while nailing down 22 of 26 opportunities. The major difference between these two players is Doolittle has experienced postseason baseball before.
Again, Reddick is the man to look out for when facing Holland. In four at-bats, Reddick has two hits, including a double. For the Royals, Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Nori Aoki have hits against Doolittle in their only at-bats. Mike Moustakas is 1-for-2.
Lastly, the Royals finished with 95 team home runs. They are more of a station-to-station team, needing to string together hits, and utilizing their speed on the basepaths to score runs. The Oakland Athletics love to mash, collecting 146 long balls as a group in 2014. The key to victory for the A’s will be jumping on Shields early, and getting their bats going in key situations.
While it is likely that Lester can pitch the A’s to victory in a low-scoring affair, the Royals have a solid bullpen that is not to be trifled with, compiling a 3.30 ERA, but can shut down the opposition from the seventh inning on with Wade Davis (1.00), Kelvin Herrera (1.41) and Holland all being options late.
Prediction: Jon Lester tosses a complete game, allowing one run on five hits. The Oakland Athletics score four times, and set up their date with the Los Angeles Angels beginning Thursday.