American Wild Card Preview
By Jared Peterman
The American League (AL) wildcard game presents the Oakland Athletics and the Kansas City Royals playing to advance to the American League Divisional Series vs the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Three or four years ago, you wouldn’t have believed the Athletics and Royals were playing in October, but the Royals have ended their 29 year playoff drought, while the Athletics have revived their franchise over the past three seasons. The two franchises square off at Kauffman Stadium, the home of the Royals.
The match up couldn’t be set any better as both teams have their aces on the hill in the one game playoff. James Shields will face off with Jon Lester, giving this game an AL East type feel to it from a few years ago as Shields pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays and Lester pitched for the Boston Red Sox. Shields was acquired prior to last season along with RP Wade Davis for blue-chip prospect Wil Myers and others, while Lester was acquired at the trade deadline this season along with OF Jonny Gomes for slugging sensation, OF Yoenis Cespedes. Shields has hurled five postseason games from 2008-2011, going 2-3 and losing his last three appearances. Lester is known for his postseason dominance throughout his Red Sox career, starting ten games and posting a 2.11ERA over his postseason career.
The Royals surged into the playoffs with an extraordinary month of September, while Oakland has had a losing record since the All-Star break. Kansas City led the AL in team batting average, but failed to hit 100 home runs throughout the season, the worst in the AL. Oakland’s offense has been abysmal since trading Cespedes, but the absence of him isn’t the only issue with Oakland as Stephen Vogt and Brandon Moss have drastically regressed over the second half of the season.
Expect a pitcher’s duel in Kauffman Stadium between old AL East foes, Shields and Lester, as Kansas City looks for their first postseason series in 29 years and Oakland tries to make their third straight postseason series. I have a hard time picking against Lester in the postseason as I pick the Athletics to beat the Royals 3-2.