Monday, September 29, 2014

Wild Card Week

Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

Date: Tuesday, September 30th
Park: Kauffman Stadium
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1981
Head to Head Record: KC 5-2
Pitching Matchup: Jon Lester (16-11, 3.21) vs. James Shields (14-8, 3.21)

This matchup features teams that are headed in opposite directions. The Royals were only two games over .500 at the All Star break, and went on a 41-27 run in the second half to rally to the playoffs. Kansas City will be making their first playoff appearance since winning the World Series in 1985. The Athletics had the best record in baseball at the All Star break, and then added Jon Lester at the trading deadline. Since the All Star break, the Athletics have gone 29-38, and backed into the playoffs. The Lester for Yoenis Cespedes trade hasn't worked out as planned, but that isn't Lester's fault. Lester has pitched very well in Oakland, but the trade took away the Athletics cleanup hitter, which weakened their offense. The A's have really been struggling, but one game could reverse a second half slump.

The Royals took five out of seven games against the A's this season. Unfortunately for them, their two losses came against Lester. This is the reason that Billy Beane acquired Lester was to win big games. The Royals counter with "Big Game James" in this do or die wild card game. The Royals were criticized over their trade of top prospect Wil Myers to acquire Shields two offseasons ago, but they wouldn't be here without the trade. Wade Davis also came in the same deal and along with Greg Holland and Kelvim Herrera, the Royals have arguably the best late inning bullpen combo in the majors.

Oakland finished the year ranking third in runs scored, but their offense has fallen on tough times in September. It was their only month they scored under 100 runs, and that would explain why they went 10-16 in September. Beane acquired Adam Dunn late in August to help out, and he is making his first playoff appearance in his 14 year career. Many of Oakland's best hitters like Brandon Moss, Coco Crisp, and Josh Donaldson have fallen off in the second half. Oakland relies on walks and power for offense, while the Royals were last in the AL in walks. The Royals also don't hit for much power, but they do steal a lot of bases. That has been key in scoring hard fought runs for KC. This should be an interesting matchup against two teams that play vastly different styles of baseball.

Prediction: Royals over Athletics

San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Wednesday, October 1st
Park: PNC Park
Previous Playoff Meetings: 1971
Head to Head Record: Pit 4-2
Pitching Matchup: Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98) vs. Edinson Volquez (13-7, 3.04)

This is the second year in a row that the Pirates will be playing in the wild card game. Last year, they ended a 21 year playoff drought. They beat the Reds in the wild card game, and lost a hard fought Division Series to the Cardinals. With a taste of October baseball, Andrew McCutchen and the Bucs are looking to go deeper into the playoffs. This year, the Pirates will face the Giants, who are no stranger to October baseball. The Giants won the World Series in 2010 and 2012. San Francisco is hoping to continue their pattern of winning the World Series every other year.

The Giants will start lefty Madison Bumgarner in the wild card matchup. At age 25, Bumgarner has already made two All Star teams and has won two World Series games. After Clayton Kershaw, Bumgarner is one of the best left handed starters in baseball. Pitching playoff baseball can be tough in Pittsburgh, and it clearly affected Johnny Cueto last year. However, Bumgarner has pitched in many big games before, and is unlikely to be affected by the crowd. The Pirates will counter with Edinson Volquez. The Pirates have revived Volquez' career after he was let go by the Padres. Volquez has had his best season since 2008, when he was an All Star.

Offensively, the Pirates were one of the better teams in the NL. Pittsburgh also steals bases well, and play solid defense. Besides McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Sterling Marte, and Neil Walker had big years for the Pirates. Russell Martin not only had a good year with the bat, his work behind the plate has really helped the team out. The Giants will be without Angel Pagan for the rest of the season due to back problems. While Pagan isn't as well known as Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval, and Hunter Pence, he is an important part of the Giants. The Giants table setter set the pace, and the Giants went 29-34 without him. Pagan's absence last year was one of the biggest reasons they missed the playoffs in 2013.

Prediction: Giants over Pirates

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