September 28, 2014

A look at the American League wild-card playoff between the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics:

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Schedule: Tuesday, at Kansas City (8:07 p.m. EDT) (TBS).

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Season Series: Royals won 5-2.

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Projected Lineup:

Athletics: CF Coco Crisp (.246, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs, 19 SBs), DH Adam Dunn (.219, 22, 64, 159 Ks with Oakland and Chicago White Sox), 3B Josh Donaldson (.255, 29, 98, 31 2Bs), LF Brandon Moss (.234, 25, 81, 153 Ks), RF Josh Reddick (.264, 12, 54), SS Jed Lowrie (.249, 6, 50), 1B Stephen Vogt (.279, 9, 35), C Geovany Soto (.253, 1, 11 with Oakland and Texas), 2B Eric Sogard (.223, 1, 22).

Royals: SS Alcides Escobar (.285, 3, 50, 31 SBs), RF Nori Aoki (.285, 1, 43, 17) CF Lorenzo Cain (.301, 5, 53, 28), 1B Eric Hosmer (.270, 9, 58, 4), DH Billy Butler (.271, 9, 66), LF Alex Gordon (.266, 19, 74, 12), C Salvador Perez (.260, 19, 70), 2B Omar Infante (.252, 6, 66, 9), 3B Mike Moustakas (.212, 15, 54).

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Starting Pitcher:

Athletics: LH Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46, 220 Ks with Oakland and Boston).

Royals: RH James Shields (14-8, 3.21).

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Relievers:

Athletics: LH Sean Doolittle (2-4, 2.73, 22/26 saves, 89/8 K/BB), RH Luke Gregerson (5-5, 3.12,3 saves), RH Ryan Cook (1-3, 3.42, 1 save), RH Dan Otero (8-2, 2.28, 1 save), LH Fernando Abad (2-4, 1.57), LH Eric O'Flaherty (1-0, 2.25, 1 save), LH Drew Pomeranz (5-4, 2.35).

Royals: RH Greg Holland (1-3, 1.44 ERA, 46/48 saves), RH Wade Davis, (9-2, 1.00), RH Kelvin Herrera (4-3, 1.41), LH Brandon Finnegan (0-1, 1.29), RH Jason Frasor (3-0, 1.53), LH Francisley Bueno (0-0, 4.18), LH Scott Downs (0-2, 3.14), RH Aaron Crow (6-1, 4.12).

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Matchups: These former AL West rivals met once before in the postseason with Oakland sweeping Kansas City in three games in the division round of the strike-shortened 1981 season. ... Royals won five of the seven meetings this season, taking two of three in Oakland and three of four in Kansas City in a pair of August meetings. ... Shields allowed five runs in 14 innings in two starts vs. Oakland, getting a win and a no-decision. He is 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA in 15 career starts vs. the A's. ... Dunn has most experience against Shields, going 7 for 35 with 1 HR and 16 Ks. ... Reddick has three HRs in 22 ABs vs. Shields. ... Lester is 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 starts vs. Royals, winning all three this season - two with the A's. ... Butler is just 4 for 28 off Lester. ... Jason Nix has 3 HRs in 26 ABs off Lester. ... Holland is 1-0 with a 1.26 ERA and 6 saves in 13 career games against Oakland. ... Holland has 9 Ks in 12 ABs vs. Dunn. ... Aoki was a thorn in Oakland's side this season, going 9 for 22 with six runs scored in seven games. ... Crisp is batting .111 the past three seasons vs. KC.

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Big Picture:

Athletics: The A's made the playoffs for the third straight year, getting in as the second wild-card team on the final day of the season after winning the AL West the previous two seasons. ... Oakland lost in the division series to Detroit the past two years and has lost seven of eight playoff series since 2000. ... The A's limped to the finish, losing 20 of their final 30 games. Their .433 winning percentage after the All-Star break was the lowest ever for a playoff team. ... Oakland finished third in the AL in runs, but averaged just 3.2 runs per game over final 29 contests. ... The A's finished the year with a 3.22 ERA, their lowest since 1990. ... Playoff appearance is especially sweet for late-season acquisition Dunn, who will play his first postseason game after 2,001 regular season contests. ... Another midseason acquisition, Lester was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts with Boston last year. ... Oakland's 111 errors were second most in the AL.

Royals: The Royals are back in the postseason for the first time since 1985, when most of their roster had not even been born. They beat the St. Louis Cardinals in an I-70 World Series that season. ... Kansas City finished 88-73, one game back of Detroit in the AL Central. It was their best record since going 92-70 in 1989, though they failed to reach the playoffs that season. ... The Royals have had more 100-loss seasons (four) than winning seasons (three) since 1993. ... Ned Yost finally gets a chance to manage in the postseason. He was fired by Milwaukee in mid-September, and the Brewers went on to earn the wild card under interim manager Dale Sveum. Sveum is now the Royals hitting coach. ... Kansas City relies on pitching and defense. The team had a 3.50 ERA, led by a bullpen that has been arguably baseball's best the past two seasons. ... Royals finished middle-of-the-pack in most offensive categories, including 15th in runs scored. But they had the fourth-best team batting average in the big leagues at .262. ... Escobar became the first Royals SS to play in all 162 games this season.

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Watch For:

- Big Game James: The Royals traded a bevy of top prospects, including OF Wil Myers, to Tampa Bay to acquire Shields prior to last season. Shields is having a good September, too, pitching to a 2.31 ERA as the Royals won four of his five starts. On a team short on postseason experience, Shields can provide a bit, even though his results have been mixed. He was 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA in six playoff starts with the Rays.

- Lester's Line: Even though the A's lost five of their seven matchups with Kansas City, they probably feel good about their chances on Tuesday with Lester on the mound. He was the winning pitcher in both of those victories over Kansas City, which came during a two-week span in early August. Acquired from the Red Sox on July 31, Lester also no-hit the Royals in 2008.

- Who Strikes First: The Royals have one of the best bullpens in baseball, and games are often over if they lead after the sixth inning. Herrera typically pitches the seventh, Davis the eighth and Holland the ninth. The three of them combined to pitch more than 200 innings with a 1.28 ERA this season. Meanwhile, the A's counter with the one bullpen that could give the Royals a run. Abad, Gregerson and Otero have been brilliant, and Doolittle has been lights-out as a closer. In other words, whoever gets the lead first could well keep it.

- Win or go home: The winner-take-all, one-game format has not been good to Oakland. The A's lost the decisive Game 5 in six division series since 2000, including the past two years to Justin Verlander and Detroit.

- Disappearing bats: After bludgeoning opponents the first half of the season, the A's struggled to generate much offense after the All-Star break, especially after the trade deadline deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Lester. Moss hit just four HRs with a .170 average after the break and spark plug Crisp batted .195.

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