Playoff Reset: The American League Wild Card Game

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Each day throughout the playoffs we’re going to be doing what I’ll call a reset. Not always a preview, not always a recap, but a generalized summary of where we stand at the moment and what we have to look forward tonight. Today, of course, is Day One of the playoffs so we can really only look ahead, so let’s look ahead to what’s on tap in tonight’s one and only game.

The Game: Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals, American League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:07 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. James Shields

The Upshot:

  • James Shields’ nom de guerre is “Big Game James,” but it’s probably worth noting that in six postseason starts, he’s 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 34 innings. There are other big games, of course, and Shields has been one of the most reliable starters all year, but to the extent you believe in playoff experience, believe in Jon Lester. He’s pitched in 13 playoff games, he’s started 11 and he’s 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 76.2 innings.
  • The Royals’ offense has been pretty lousy all year — and some of their most important bats like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have struggled against Lester in the past — but it’s not like the A’s have been knocking the cover off the ball. Indeed, in August and September the bats were in a deep freeze. Royals hitters were, overall, far better in the season’s final two months than A’s hitters.
  • Kansas City and Oakland have met seven times this year. K.C. won five of those. The two losses, however, game to Jon Lester.
  • The A’s are going to need to score early given how good the Kansas City bullpen is. If Shields cruises through six innings, the A’s are going to be faced with Herrera, Davis and Holland. If, on the other hand, the game doesn’t go according to that preferred Royals’ script — if, say, Ned Yost has to go to his pen early or use guys outside of their set roles — there’s a decent chance that the A’s will find themselves in preferable matchups. Because Yost has a lot of good weapons, but he tends to flake a good deal when his battle plan is disrupted by virtue of engagement with the enemy.

Obviously anything can happen in a one-and-done game, rendering these things coin flips. As such, predictions are kind of beside the point. I’d say, however, that a low scoring game favors the Royals and those crazy-good arms they have, while a slugfest — or whatever passes for one between these particular teams in 2014 — favors the A’s.

Royals outfielder Gordon to retire after 14 seasons

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Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, the former first-round pick whose rollercoaster career took him from near bust to All-Star and Gold Glove winner, announced Thursday he will retire after the season.

Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft following a standout career at Nebraska, where he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur in baseball. He made his big league debut two years later and, after a few years shuttling back and forth to the minors, moved from third base to the outfield and finally found success.

He wound up playing his entire 14-year career in Kansas City, joining only George Brett and Frank White as position players with that much longevity with the franchise. He heads into a weekend four-game series against Detroit with the third-most walks (682), fourth-most homers (190), fifth-most doubles (357) and sixth-most games played (1,749) in club history.

The three-time All-Star also holds the dubious distinction of being the Royals’ career leader in getting hit by pitches.

While he never quite hit with the kind of average the Royals hoped he would, Gordon did through sheer grit turn himself into one of the best defensive players in the game. He is the only outfielder to earn seven Gold Gloves in a nine-year span, a number that trails only White’s eight for the most in franchise history, and there are enough replays of him crashing into the outfield wall at Kauffman Stadium or throwing out a runner at the plate to run for hours.

Gordon won the first of three defensive player of the year awards in 2014, when he helped Kansas City return to the World Series for the first time since its 1985 championship. The Royals wound up losing to the Giants in a seven-game thriller, but they returned to the Fall Classic the following year and beat the Mets in five games to win the World Series.

It was during the 2015 that Gordon hit one of the iconic homers in Royals history. His tying shot off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1 forced extra innings, and the Royals won in 14 to set the tone for the rest of the World Series.

Gordon signed a one-year contract to return this season, and he never considered opting out when the coronavirus pandemic caused spring training to be halted and forced Major League Baseball to play a dramatically reduced 60-game schedule.

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