162 games worth of dust has settled and the 2014 MLB playoff picture is set. After a day off Monday, the five best teams in each league will compete for a spot in the World Series.
And while the wildcard round is still technically considered to be part of the playoffs, Oakland and Kansas City will need to play their way into October when they battle on the final day of September.
The A's will travel to Kauffman Stadium to play the Royals in a single-elimination game for the right to play the Angels.
They're partying like it's 1985 in Kansas City, where Kauffman Stadium hosts a first playoff game since the Royals won the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. That Royals team, like this one, was led by its pitching. But that's a quality they share with their opponent, the Oakland A's. And because of that, there aren't many who expect a whole lot of runs to be scored in Tuesday's matchup.
The home team sends "Big Game" James Shields to the mound to face off against Oakland's midseason acquisition ace Jon Lester. Both pitchers have been two of the most consistent in the American League. Shields has thrown at least 200 innings every season since 2007, while Lester has completed at least 190 in every season since he came onto the scene in 2008. And 2014 was no exception for either ace, as they each made over 30 starts with high effectiveness.
If both pitchers are on their game, and there's a lot of reason to believe both will be, this matchup comes down to either offense manufacturing runs. On one hand, the Royals are built for small ball. Kansas City placed three players in the top eight of American League stolen base leaders. But the running game will also be challenged by Lester's left-handedness, which will only heighten the burden on KC's power hitters to make solid contact against Lester and get extra base hits.
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Oakland's offensive woes since trading away Yoenis Cespedes were talked about plenty as the A's just barely slid into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. Without their bopper in the middle, Oakland's offense took a turn for the worst.
Brandon Moss lost his power and no one stepped up to help out Josh Donaldson in the middle of the lineup. But the A's are in the playoffs and there's no reason why their struggles should follow them. That said, Shields was excellent in two starts this year and will pitch his best baseball on Tuesday when it matters most.
This game is a virtual tossup, as reflected in the betting markets (OAK -115/KC -105). Both starters are fantastic, both bullpens lights out and both offenses with plenty of questions marks.
But while Kansas City has already won something just by getting back to the playoffs, the A's are heavily invested in winning a World Championship this season. And because of that, I like the A's to march on and play their division rivals in October.
Oakland: 3, Kansas City: 1