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.