8:07 PM EST, TBS – Line: Oakland -106
Hit the reset button folks, for it’s a clean slate as the Playoffs begin tonight as the surprising Kansas City Royals host the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Playoff. This matchup almost didn’t happen as Oakland (88-74) very nearly played their way out of a postseason spot; after going 59-36 before the All-Star Break, Bob Melvin’s club floundered afterward with a 29-38 record which saw them fall from grace in the American League West, losing their firm grip on the Division to the Angels. The month of September was particularly cruel to the A’s, who lost sixteen out of their final twenty-six contests, but nevertheless were able to finally secure the last Wild Card spot after shutting out the Rangers 4-0 in the Regular Season Finale. Sonny Gray (14-10, 3.08 ERA) put his team on his back and pitched a wonderful Complete Game, yielding six hits and no runs over nine innings, while striking out five batters and walking none. Offensively, Brandon Moss tagged his 23rd double of the season, while Josh Reddick drove home the final run on the strength of a triple.
Momentum is a precious commodity this time of year, and these guys simply haven’t had it in quite a while, but Melvin and Co. can take comfort in the fact that they will be sending their best option to the mound tonight in this winner-take-all scenario. Shortly before the Trade Deadline, the A’s stepped out of character and made some huge in-season acquisitions, most notably prying Jon Lester away from the fading Red Sox. Lester (16-11, 2.46 ERA) was the recipient of scant run support in Boston, and benefited from the change in scenery in Oakland; in eleven starts for the Athletics, the veteran left-hander has gone 6-4 with a stellar 2.35 ERA, and saw his WHIP (1.070), Hits per Nine Innings (7.7), and Walks per Nine Innings (1.9) all show improvement. In three starts versus the Royals this season, Lester has gone 3-0 with a solid 2.61 ERA, scattering six runs on nineteen hits over 20.2 innings of work, striking out 20 batters opposed to walking just five. And quite frankly, tonight’s contest is precisely why Oakland acquired him; Lester has performed at the highest of levels in the Playoffs, owning a 6-4 resume with a scant 2.11 ERA in thirteen career appearances, racking up 68 strikeouts with a 3.24 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. Furthermore, his postseason ERA is the third lowest in major league history. With that said, this season the A’s are just 2-5 against the Royals, including 1-3 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
Meanwhile, momentum might seem like a foreign term to the Athletics, but it’s something that the Royals (89-73) are very familiar with. Ned Yost’s club was 48-46 at the All-Star Break, but has since gone 41-27, including 19-10 in the month of August. Winners of five of their final seven outings, Kansas City seemed to get stronger as the season progressed, and with the finish line in sight, they pushed forth clinching their first postseason birth since 1985, breaking the longest drought in the Majors. Solid pitching coupled with subtle offense has worked wonders for this starved franchise; far from a powerhouse (95 HR), the Royals own the American League’s second highest batting average (.264), while striking out the fewest (985), and racking up the most stolen bases (153). Sunday they were able to finally lock up a Playoff spot by virtue of a wild 6-4 victory in Chicago in which both teams combined for two-dozen hits.
Yost’s club continued their small-ball approach, racking up 12 hits over the course of the Regular Season Finale. Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, and Christian Colon each recorded an RBI, with Colon going 2-for-2 with a double which drove home a pair of runs. Six different pitchers saw action, starting with Yordano Ventura (14-10, 3.20 ERA) who lasted just four innings, allowing four runs on eights, including a home run. Casey Coleman, who ended up earning the victory, tossed one inning allowing one hit, before Louis Coleman closed the deal in the ninth with three strikeouts. The Royals will counter Lester tonight with their ovwn ace, as James “Big Game” Shields heads to the bump to further validate his moniker. Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA) has been Kansas City’s horse all year long, owning a 1.181 WHIP, along with a solid 4.09 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. like his counterpart in Oakland, he is no stranger to the postseason; in six career starts with the Rays, the big right-hander owns a 2-4 record with a 4.98 ERA, allowing 10.5 hits per nine innings with a 3.13 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. This season Shields has met the A’s just twice, earning a 1-0 record with a 3.21 ERA over 14 innings of labor, but has experienced some trouble with their lineup, relinquishing eleven hits, including a pair of home runs, despite striking out seven Athletics opposed to issuing one walk.