Oakland Athletics @ Kansas City Royals (Lester vs. Shields)
Moneyline – OAK (+100) KC (-110)
Runline – OAK +1.5 (-235) KC -1.5 (+205)
Total – Over 6.5 (+100) Under 6.5 (-120)
Side: It’s been a long time coming for the Kansas City Royals. Finally, after a wait of 29 years, there will be postseason baseball at Kauffman Stadium. But they’ve drawn just about as tall a task as there is in Jon Lester. The A’s traded away their clean-up hitter Yoenis Cespedes to get Lester for one reason, to win them playoff games. Lester posts a ridiculous 2.11 postseason ERA, and he also has had plenty of success against the Royals having allowed just 18 ER in 88 innings. Oh, and he’s 3-0 against Kansas City in 2014. The Royals will run James Shields out and hope he lives up to his nickname “Big Game James.” The key to this game will be the early innings. Both bullpens are excellent, so even a single run will be difficult to come by late. The first three innings are even bigger for the A’s because they come in to the game off a major slump, having lost 31 of their last 50. They’ve had a difficult time scoring since Cespedes left, but they understand just a run or two can get them the win in this elimination game. So they might revert to small ball and play for single runs rather than bunches.
One huge question with the Royals is how much pressure they feel to win this game. Kansas City players understand how long it’s been since their city has experienced October baseball, and a loss in the wildcard game would leave them one day short of that dream. It’s going to be tough for the Royals to put the importance of this game out of their minds, while their opponent has to be feeling loose after they staved off one of the most epic collapses in Major League history. James Shields is known for coming up big in massive spots, but amazingly he’s been pedestrian at best at home. Shields is just 4-6 at The K and his ERA jumps more than half a point at home. The intensity of the game will be gigantic, and the experience factor is clearly in the corner of Oakland. Billy Beane sold the future for a shot at the World Series this year, despite his team’s miserable stretch run, they are here. Aand now it’s time for their pitching staff to take over. Pick: A’s +100
Total: Playoff baseball brings extremely low totals, and this one is no different. 6.5 is a really low total for a baseball game and specifically an American League one. However, the number actually appears high. If we simply take the ERAs of the two starting pitchers into account, it’s hard to predict many more than three or four runs total given up between the pair. Then when you take the bullpens into consideration, the prospects of offense don’t get any better. Both pens are in the top 10 in ERA, and both are even better at the back end, which is who will be pitching as both starters should get at least into the 6th. We have to lay a bit of juice to take this under, but it appears likely that the winner will only need 2 or 3 runs to advance to the ALDS. Oakland is struggling to hit, and the Royals have had absolutely no luck against Lester. Pay the premium, it’ll be worth it. Pick: Under 6.5