Kansas City's best shot in this one will be if James Shields (left) can hand a lead over to the bullpen.
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
It's been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals played a postseason game. That'll change on Tuesday, as they host the American League wild card game against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.
Twenty-nine years. Nearly three decades. That is an awful long time. A whole generation of fans have never seen the Royals play a game like the one they will play on Tuesday.
Pittsburgh was in a similar situation a year ago and the city let out 21 years of frustration. The wild scene inside PNC Park that night provided one of the more lasting images of last year's postseason. Kauffman Stadium, one of the most underrated ballparks in America, figures to be just as raucous on Tuesday.
There is no doubt in my mind the crowd in Pittsburgh carried the Pirates to that one-game playoff win over the Cincinnati Reds. Sure, Francisco Liriano may have had something to do with it, but you could have marched the Murders' Row Yankees into PNC that night and they would have been overwhelmed by that crowd.
Kansas City will likely have a similar feel, but the Oakland Athletics have the remedy in left-hander Jon Lester.
Forget the fact Lester has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season and maybe single-handedly the only reason why the A's are even still playing, but he just owns the Royals.
Lester has gone 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 career starts against the Royals, including 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three outings against them this season. And he no-hit the Royals in 2008.
Not to mention he's becoming the best postseason pitcher around, going 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 starts and two relief appearances in October. That includes two starts in the World Series last year, when he allowed one earned run in 15 1/3 innings.
"We had Jon targeted for this," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "That's why you have a guy like that. When he takes the mound, the team's going to feel awfully good about their chances."
Oakland has been among the worst teams in baseball for the last two months of the season. Pitching is what wins in October and the A's have plenty of it. And there was a time that this team hit, too. You can't tell me Yoenis Cespedes was that important to this lineup. You just can't.
Regardless, the Royals don't hit and haven't hit all year. They didn't even manage 100 home runs as a team this year. How is that even possible?
Kansas City's best shot in this one will be if James Shields can hand a lead over to the bullpen. The Royals' bullpen trio of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis was truly a formidable force, having combined for a 1.28 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 205 1/3 innings in the regular season.
The bullpen went 72-1 in the regular season when leading after seven innings and 79-1 when leading after eight. The A's, though, led the majors with 13 wins when trailing after seven and eight wins when trailing after eight.
You want a matchup to watch, there it is.
If a football team loses three of four games in December, they usually get bounced in the first round. Baseball is different. Momentum lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher.
If you want to get on the A's for their near collapse, you can't overlook the fact that the Royals' top two hitters - Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon - have barely hit their weight in September.
As great of a story as it would be for the Royals to move on, I like the A's. A lot. Sorry Royals, give me the playoff-tested A's in this one. And you know what, I think I may like the A's going forward.
And as for the other wild card game which will be played on Wednesday, I am going to stick with the road team and go with San Francisco in Pittsburgh.
By the way, would it have killed Major League Baseball to have both of these one-game playoffs on the same day? Why are they trying to string this out?
We noted earlier how electric the scene in Pittsburgh was last season and it probably will be again on Wednesday. But, like the Royals, they are going to be going up against a pretty good pitcher in San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner.
If there was no Clayton Kershaw, we may very well be talking about an NL Cy Young Award for Bumgarner, who set career-high marks in wins (18) and strikeouts (219) and pitched to a 2.98 ERA.
Bumgarner was also one of the best road pitchers in the league this season, going 11-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 18 starts away from AT&T Park.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has taken some heat for opting to start Gerrit Cole in Sunday's regular season finale, but the skipper defended his decision by saying he wanted to win a division title and avoid the win-or-go-home game altogether.
Hard to blame him, but even had they won on Sunday, which they didn't, the Pirates still would have needed help from the St. Louis Cardinals.
"I know the voice and heartbeat of those 35 men out there," Hurdle said. "They're all in, they're going out to win this ballgame, then whatever happens, happens.
"We've been second-guessed the whole season on how we do things, so you do what you believe in. Then Edinson Volquez can have the wild card game; we like our chances with him pitching."
So with Cole unavailable, Hurdle will hand the ball to Volquez, who has been as impressive as any pitcher in baseball of late, compiling a 1.78 ERA over his last 12 starts and finishing the season with a scoreless streak of 18 innings.
Volquez had the highest ERA -- 5.71 -- of any qualified starter in Major League Baseball a year ago, but this year he trimmed that by nearly three runs, and led the Pirates in innings pitched (192 2/3) and starts (31), while going 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA.
"He's been there all year," Cole said after Sunday's game. "When you look at the body of work, it's hard not to be impressed. He's been consistent, he's been disciplined through his routine. It's allowed him to be in this position."
At home, Volquez has allowed four earned runs in his last five starts, across 34 2/3 innings, although he is winless in nine starts against the Giants since beating them twice in 2008.
Pittsburgh knows how to win in this one-game format. But the Giants are a team that has won two of the last five World Series. I'm not as confident with this pick as the one in the AL, but I am still going with the Giants' pitching.