This has been one of the most unpredictable seasons in baseball. I had all the division winners correct in the National League, but only one Wild Card winner. As for the American League the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics were my only correct predictions. That’s not to say this won’t be an interesting postseason. The San Francisco Giants will be looking for their third title in five years. The St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers have been among the best teams this season. Make no mistake about the Pittsburgh Pirates chances of making another October run. In the American League the Los Angeles Angels were the hottest team in baseball down the stretch to claim the best record in baseball. The Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers were tops in their respective divisions and the Kansas City Royals would not give up their chance of ending a 29 year postseason drought. With that said this is where anything goes and those 162 other games make it worthwhile.
American League Wild Card
Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals
This is why the Oakland Athletics traded for Jon Lester. For moments like this. He will be the guy to take the mound for Oakland who had a hell of a time just getting into the postseason. Oakland struggled in almost every aspect down the stretch. Defense, Bullpen, Hitting, Baserunning. All of it was not good. They’ll have to be perfect as will Lester. He has had a lot of success against the Royals in his career so that’s a plus going forward. The one issue is health going into the Wild Card game. Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson are banged up. They’ve been integral parts all year long and if they can’t get it going it will be tough for Oakland to score runs. Obviously not having Yoenis Cespedes, who was dealt to Boston for Lester at the trade deadline had an adverse effect on the A’s, but that has to go out the window now. Oakland can’t feel sorry for themselves now if they want to extend their postseason chance.
The last postseason game played at Kauffman Stadium was in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. An 11-0 victory for the Royals over the St. Louis Cardinals. It is sure to be a wild scene as the Royal faithful will be on hand for a great moment 29 years in the making. As with Lester, the Royals acquired James Shields before the 2013 season for a moment like this. He is a free agent to be at the end of the season and if he can extend the Royals postseason stay he will be looking to cash in with the ‘ace’ label in the offseason. This matchup is being slated as a pitching duel, but what matters is who scores the most runs. The Royals were the second best hitting team in the American League and they did it without any big names lighting up the box score. Their best hitter, Alex Gordon has quietly become one of the best hitters in baseball playing the huge gaps of Kauffman Stadium. If the Royals get to Lester early it could spell trouble for Oakland having to play from behind.
National League Wild Card
San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
It isn’t an unfamiliar position for the Giants. They count on being the underdog in the postseason. Madison Bumgarner will be put into the position to pitch the Giants into the Division Series. Usually at this time the rest of the league is in awe of the Giants pitching, but this year they are in awe of their hitting. They were in the top five in the National League and having Buster Posey and Hunter Pence in the middle of your lineup isn’t a bad thing either. Their bullpen had to be patched up early in the season, but it is effective like in years past. If Clayton Kershaw wasn’t having the season he’s been having, Bumgarner would be a favorite for the NL Cy Young award. Alas he will tough to beat in one game winner take all.
Pittsburgh was in this spot last year against their division rival Cincinnati. They handled it well and took the St. Louis Cardinals to the full five games in the Division Series last season. The Pirates certainly had a tough time staying in contention this year, but were the hottest team in the National League running away with the Wild Card lead and remaining on the Cardinals heels for the division. Edinson Volquez gets the start for the Wild Card game. He’s been solid all year and will be counted on to give the Pirates at least six strong innings. The bullpen is good enough to finish it off after that. Andrew McCutchen hasn’t had to do all the heavy lifting on offense this year as Starling Marte and Josh Harrison have had career years. Russell Martin has been invaluable both in the batters box and behind the plate. Pittsburgh has been one of the best teams when playing at home. They’ll have to do it again against a tough opponent.