Royals Overview & 3 “Nissan” Keys to the Game
Today is the biggest game of the year for the Green and Gold.
This is the mentality that the Oakland Athletics must to take in to every contest from here on out, especially come 5:07 PM. Taking on a Kansas City Royals team – last in the American League in both home runs and walks – that finds different ways to win could possibly be the most difficult challenge this 2014 MLB postseason has to offer for the A’s.
Well how does KC win games without the Long Ball?
The Royals hit well with runners in scoring in position – something the A’s have been struggling to do since the trade deadline – at a .271 clip. Plus, they do two things that are highly undervalued in today’s hitting-obsessed society, play defense and run the bases. They stole 153 bases (1st in the AL) or 0.94 bases per game, head and shoulders over the next team (LA Dodgers 0.75). In the field, the Royals have multiple Gold Glove defenders in Alex Gordon (LF) and Eric Hosmer (1B) as a well as arguably the best defensive catcher in the game right now, Salvador Perez. In a recent interview, Orioles Manager Buck Showalter called Perez “a giant pillow” behind the plate because of his ability to be a massive target, but at the same time keeping his hands and body soft in order to play balls in the dirt with grace.
To put the cherry on top – and I can say this honestly from watching them – Kansas has the most dominant back-end of the bullpen in all of baseball because of their three-headed monster.
7th inning – Kevin Herrera throws 100 mph, and recently had a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 30 2/3 innings.
8th inning – Wade Davis throws 98 mph, and recently had a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 31 2/3 innings.
9th inning – Greg Holland throws 97 mph, and has 40 saves in back-to-back seasons. He was 46 of 48 in 2014, the most of any playoff reliever.
So can this slumping, “barely-make-it-in” Oakland squad turn everything around in just two days? Truthfully, they don’t need to.
They just need to do enough to win and here’s 3 ways how:
1) Starting Pitching
This is the most obvious way, as Jon Lester will be pitted against “Big Games James” Shields. However “Big” Shields has been in the regular season, his postseason résumé of 2-4 with a 4.98 ERA do not reflect it. Lester, on the other hand, is just the opposite. During last year’s Red Sox playoff run, he went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. A guy that always seems to pitch better when the lights are brightest, the lefty credits his success to his preparation. In an interview yesterday when asked about his approach to todays start, he calmly and collectively responded, “I try to take that same mentality into every game, whether it’s April 15 against the Royals or Sept. 30. It’s the same mentality, same preparation, same routine. Nothing changes because the game means more. I think that keeps me even-keeled.” He’s someone that has the same conviction whether its pitch 1 of Spring Training or pitch 110 of Game 7 of the World Series.
How could you not feel good with someone like that on the mound?
2) Score early and control the running game
This is kind of a “two-parter” as both of these apply to the strengths of the Royals I explained earlier. Now, the A’s were 57-18 when scoring first, compared to 31-56 when their opponent got to the scoreboard before them, and it typically starts with leadoff man Coco Crisp who hit .389 in last year’s playoffs. Another (and maybe the biggest) factor will be Josh Reddick. In the last two seasons, he has had the most success against Shields of any Athletic, going 4-6 with four extra base hits and two home runs. As for keeping the Royals quiet on the base paths, that will come down to catcher Geovony Soto. Despite KC being 6-6 on SB attempts this season against Oakland, Soto has thrown out eight of his 16 runners since joining the A’s via an August trade from the Rangers.
3) Forget August, Forget September, Forget it all
Short-term memory loss, some like to call it. I call it playoff baseball. The postseason is just that, a NEW season and the A’s will need it if they are to win this ball game and advance. Forget about the hideously ugly second half that culminated in a 29-38 record and forget about everything negative said about them throughout the last few weeks. “There was a lot of weight on our shoulders leading up to this, because for a team that had 14 consecutive winning months, to play two months in the fashion that we did was tough,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We weren’t used to it. It was foreign territory, and it was perplexing to everybody. Hopefully to get this weight off our shoulder, we get back to doing the things that we do and have done consistently.” That means doing the improbable: aligning strong pitching performance with productive offense and sound defense, while not carrying the pressure that burdened each of these all too often in the second half.
But hey, anything could happen in OAKtober.