The first game of the 2014 MLB postseason has Oakland headed to Kansas City to face the Royals in a winner-takes-all scenario.
On Tuesday night (8:07 first pitch), Jon Lester (16-11) will go head-to-head with James Shields (14-8) to decide who gets to head to Anaheim to take on the AL West champion Angels.
It is never easy to predict the winner of a one-game playoff on the heels of a 162-game regular season but that is exactly what I will attempt to do with a position-by-position breakdown.
Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester vs. James Shields
Both pitchers are aces in their own right and both have a history of coming up in big games, whether they are in the postseason or otherwise. Jon Lester has had a career year, boasting a 2.46 ERA (more than a full run better than his career average) and 1.10 WHIP, and is also going into this start hot with a 2.00 ERA in the month of September. Although James Shields has also been hot in the past month (2.31 ERA)- he hasn’t been quite as consistent as Lester this season, even with an impressive ERA and WHIP of 3.21 and 1.18. The fact that Lester was stellar all the way through a World Series championship last fall gives him a slight edge in this matchup.
Catcher: Derek Norris vs. Savador Perez
Norris struggled with injury this season but while behind the plate, he was very productive, boasting a .270 AVG and adding 10 HR in 385 AB. Meanwhile, Perez was among the most consistent catchers in the bigs this season, hitting .260 with 17 HR and 69 RBI. This one is essentially a wash but for arguments sake, I like Perez.
Edge Kansas City
Fist Base: Brandon Moss vs. Eric Hosmer
Pretty much a battle of hitting for average vs. power in this matchup. Moss hit 25 homers this year while batting just .233, while Hosmer managed only 9 dingers will batting a respectable .272. In a one-game playoff where a 3-run HR could prove to be the winning hit, I’m taking Moss and his power potential in this one. Of his 25 HRs, 21 came off right-handers. And James Shields sure isn’t a lefty.
Second Base: Alberto Callaspo vs. Omar Infante
Second base is certainly a weakness for both of these teams, with neither player having any real speed, power, or average to speak of. Gun-to-my-head, I’d take Infante and his .252 average over Callaspo and his .223 average.
Edge: Kansas City
Third Base: Josh Donaldson vs. Mike Moustakas
For the second straight season, Donaldson was a stud for the A’s, among the MLB’s elite at third both offensively and defensively. He showed off elite power among third basemen with 29 HR and 98 RBI and the fact that he was third in the MLB among position players in WAR (despite a .257 average) shows just how valuable he is defensively. Meanwhile, Moustakas was sent down to the minors at one point this season and although he was able to show off a little pop with 15 HR in 455 AB, he was barely able to stay above the Mendoza line. This is as lopsided a matchup as it gets.
Shortstop: Jed Lowrie vs. Alcides Escobar
Alcides Escobar was quitely among the best SS in the majors this season combining a very solid average of .285 with speed that netted him 31 steals on 37 attempts. Very few shorts can challenge Escobar head-to-head. Lowrie (and his .249 average) is not one of them.
Edge: Kansas City
Outfield: Jonny Gomes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick vs. Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Nori Aoki
Oakland has it all in their outfield- pop, speed, and very valuable postseason experience (and fun fact- all are former Red Sox!). The Royals have a very valuable player in LF with Alex Gordon and Nori Aoki proved to be a valuable offseason addition (batting .285 with 17 SB) in RF but Oakland’s group looks like the group you want to roll with in a must-win.
Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn vs. Billy Butler
Billy Butler and his line of .271/9/66 was among one of the worst everyday players this season according to the advanced stats, so literally any DH has a good chance of winning this head-to-head. The fact that Oakland has Dunn makes this a little interesting but he does have the pop (22HR in 429 AB) that Butler simply doesn’t have.
Bullpen: Sean Doolittle (C), Eric O’Flaherty, Luke Gregerson vs. Greg Holland (C), Scott Downs, Wade Davis
It is very possible that this game will be close and will have to be closed out. And the guy you want closing out a tight game is Greg Holland, who had 46 saves in 48 opportunities. Compare that to Doolittle and his 4 blown saves in 26 opportunities, and it looks like we have a clear edge. Holland was arguably the best closer in baseball this season, owning a .1.44 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Wade Davis was also a very valuable reliever during the Royals’ run to the postseason, picking up 9 wins and sporting a 1.00 ERA and .85 WHIP.
Edge: Kansas City
The fact that the Wild Card games are a one-game, winner-takes- all matchup (for now) certainly offers a break to the Royals, who would have to go against one of the most imposing, deepest rotations in a usual best 3-of-5 scenario. Still, it would appear that Oakland has a slight edge in this one. Although they certainly limped into the postseason, they are coming off a energizing game on Sunday in which Sonny Gray clinched their postseason appearance. Jon Lester has shown that he can come up big in postseason games and Oakland has the potential for timely HRs that the Royals simply don’t appear to have. Although the Royals ending baseball’s longest postseason drought is a fantastic story (hello Toronto Blue Jays, you’re up!) the Athletics are in a position where they simply cannot make another early postseason exit. Plus, who doesn’t want to see an all-AL West matchup involving Oakland and Anaheim?