Tonight (Sept. 30) the MLB post season begins. No better way to start than with two of the most dynamic pitchers in the American League facing off for a chance to move their team forward to the divisional round. The Oakland A’s (88-74) and the Kansas City Royals (89-73) go head to head in a one game matchup at 8:07p.m (ET) on TBS. James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA), known as “Big Game James”, will get to put that nickname to the test against veteran left-hander Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46 ERA).
Both these guys are in the position that each of their respective teams thought they would be in at this very moment. Blockbuster trades acquired both pitchers; both brought to their teams with the idea of producing big results in big moments. Tonight both Shields and Lester have a chance to prove which team got it right.
The Royals won the season series against the A’s 5-2; however, the two wins that the A’s received came off the arm of Lester. He allowed only 3 runs in both those games, getting huge run support from his teammates as well (8-3 & 11-3). Lester was sent to Oakland earlier in July from the Boston Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes. He knows what it takes to win; he’s been here before, which is one of the reasons that the A’s acquired him. This will be the 12th start for Lester as a member of the A’s, but his 14th appearance in the postseason where he is 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA, including two starts in the World Series last season.
Shields got a win and a no-decision in this season’s series against Oakland, but have pitched lights out in the month of September, posting a 2.31 ERA and winning four of his last starts. In Tampa, he earned the name “Big Game James”, but this is certainly one of the biggest games of his career. He also produced his eighth straight 200-inning season with 227 innings pitched.
How these pitchers come out the gate will be crucial to results of this game, as both the Royals and the A’s have a tough bullpen – the league’s best in fact– to contend against. Oakland’s offense has actually struggled a bit after the All-Star break, but really slowed down after the Cespedes-Lester trade. Kansas City normally wins it if they are up in the 6th inning, as their 7th, 8th,and 9th inning combo of Herrera, Davis, and Holland have produced a 1.28 ERA in 200 innings. The A’s are going to need some big hits from its key players, especially Josh Donaldson, who seems to be the hot hand in the Bay right now, but is battling a knee injury that injury could play a major factor if the team makes it past the Royals.
Oakland has experience on its side, since the team has been in the post season the last three consecutive years. However, they have not faired well in win-or-go-home scenarios. The A’s have lost the deciding game in each playoff appearance since 2000. Meanwhile, Kansas City is seeing it’s first October since 1985.
Kauffman Stadium is going to be at capacity and the excitement to have playoff baseball back in 29 years will play heavily on this game. The Royals want to prove they belong. The A’s want to prove they can win with their backs against the wall.
Oh, and the Los Angeles Angels? Well they are just patiently waiting to see whom they face in the ALDS on Thursday (Oct. 3).
Oakland over Kansas City 4-3