Tomorrow, Kansas City will play host to the Oakland Athletics in a win-and-you're-in Wild Card one-off. The tilt will feature two starting pitchers whose teams acquired them to lead them to the promised land.
For the Athetics, Jon Lester will take the mound in the hopes of doing exactly what he's done to the Royals three times already this season. In three starts this year, Lester sports a 3 - 0 record against the Royals having thrown 20.2 innings, striking out 20, walking five, hitting one batsman, and allowing 19 hits in which the Royals totaled six runs. Of those 19 hits allowed, the Royals had six doubles. Their slash line against him this season has been .253/.301/.333.
With the A's defense behind him, it has been harder to score against Lester, though not for reasons directly related to his pitching. Since coming over to Oakland in the deal for Yoenis Cespedes, Lester's ERA has been a sparkling 2.35 over 76.2 IP, lower than the 2.52 ERA he sported in the first 143.0 IP in Boston. Of course, his K-rates have dipped a bit too--8.3 K/9 and 25.7% in Oakland versus 9.4 and 23.3% in Boston--and when combined with the .281 BABIP he's been privy to in Oakland (versus the .308 he had in Boston) has helped lead to a higher FIP in an A's uniform (3.13) than he'd had in Boston (2.62).
The Royals will send James Shields to the mound. This is the precise scenario Dayton Moore had in mind when he (we thought crazily) traded the future for Shields. Shields seems to have been every bit the workhorse and staff leader that Moore hoped he would be. His 3.21 ERA, 3.59 FIP are not the things of legend, but he has been locked in for the second half of the season, allowing just a .233/.273/.359 triple-slash against, .280 wOBA, 2.62 ERA, and 3.38 FIP in the 96.1 IP thrown since the break.
We know the Royals' bats and pen at this point. We've had 162 games to acclimate ourselves to them. Who are the A's though.
The platoon-dependent Athletics will most definitely put out a lineup loaded with left-handed hitters.
Their down-ballot MVP candidate Josh Donaldson will most definitely play, even if on just one leg. Fortunately for the Royals, he is just an above-average offensive player against right-handers.
The familiar and switch-hitting Coco Crisp will surely be featured atop the lineup, though the power he bolstered in 2013 (.183 ISO) appears to have mostly evaporated this year (.113 ISO).
In playing time limited by injuries this season, Josh Reddick has crushed RHP, sporting a .367 wOBA and 140 wRC+.
Adam Dunn is still a .345 wOBA/120 wRC+ hitter against RHP. While the bulk of his production came on the South Side this season, the A's traded for his pop. He only has 76 PA in 25 games since coming over to Oakland, but Beane got him to face RHP.
The ice cold left-handed-hitting Brandon Moss--.173/.310/.274 since the break--has had a weird season all around and is actually having a bit of a reverse-platoon split, despite career numbers that suggest he should be doing otherwise.
Derek Norris has been similarly frigid since the break--he and Moss being big keys to the Athletics second-half struggles. His .288 wOBA and 85 wRC+ since the break lie in stark contrast to his .388 wOBA and 155 wRC+ before the break. He's actually faced RHP for a total of 269 PA this season, nearly twice as many as any of his other three seasons, and he has a .318 wOBA and 106 wRC+ to show for it.
Stephen Vogt is nearly unplayable against LHP, but he hit RHP to the tune of .337 wOBA and 119 wRC+.
The bulk of switch-hitting Jed Lowrie's production this year--five of his six home runs, .314 to .261 wOBA, 103 to 71 wRC+--has come from the left side of the plate.
Eric Sogard is only pretty bad against RHP--.267 wOBA and 71 wRC+ versus .230 wOBA and 45 wRC+ versus LHP--and is likely to man a middle-infield slot.
Unfortunately for the A's, it looks as though they will be without the services of righty-mashing catcher John Jaso, who has been sidelined with a concussion. Right-handed Craig Gentry was also still sidelined with a concussion when the season came to an end, though it's possible he'll get cleared in time for Tuesday's game.
Southpaw crusher Jonny Gomes will be available off the bench for Oakland. Let's hope Scott Downs isn't in the stadium to face him. Lefty Sam Fuld, owner of a reverse-split on his career, will likely be available off the bench for Oakland. Alberto Callaspo has been slightly less dreadful against RHP than LHP, but it's pretty unlikely that he'll be called upon for anything substantial tomorrow.
As for the A's bullpen, Sean Doolittle has been called upon to be their primary closer following the early season flame-out of Jim Johnson. Luke Gregerson, Eric O'Flaherty, Dan Otero, Fernando Abad, and Ryan Cook would be the primary middle relievers to worry about coming out of the pen. As Sonny Gray and Jeff Samardzija started on Saturday and Sunday, you can assume they are off the Wild Card roster. Jason Hammel pitched on Thursday, and Scott Kazmir pitched on Friday, so it's possible either or both could be on the roster in the case of an emergency.
Shields and the Royals will have their hands full, even with the A's in total and complete tailspin mode since peaking at 66 - 40 on July 29th. They're just 22 - 34 in the 56 games that followed. In contrast, on July 21st the Royals were 48 - 50 and have gone 41 - 23 since.