Five questions entering A's-Royals Wild Card game
Can the A’s pounce on “Big Game” James?
A troublesome trait during the A’s second-half slide was their inability to generate offense in the early innings. Getting something going – quickly – against Royals starter James Shields would be a big confidence builder for Oakland. And you figure any lead that’s handed to A’s starter Jon Lester might end up being a safe one. But most importantly, the A’s don’t want to enter the late innings trailing on the scoreboard and having to mount a comeback against Kansas City’s vaunted bullpen. Royals relievers ranked fifth in the A.L. in bullpen ERA, but that doesn’t do justice to how stingy this hard-throwing bunch can be.
Can the A’s slow traffic on the bases?
The Royals led the majors this season with 153 stolen bases, and the fleet-footed trio of Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain combined for 95 steals on their own. Throwing out base stealers was one of the A’s most glaring season-long weaknesses. Geovany Soto, who seems the odds-on favorite to start at catcher Tuesday, has shown a strong and accurate arm recently. But it’s also up to starting pitcher Jon Lester to keep the Royals in check. If Soto does catch, keep an eye on how he and Lester work together. Soto has yet to catch the lefty.
Does home field become KC’s advantage?
Don’t underestimate how much this game means to the local fan base here. The Royals haven’t appeared in the postseason since 1985, when they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. A pep rally was held at Kauffman Stadium on Monday, and the joint will be rocking Tuesday. “I played here one year, so I know a little bit of history here and how long it’s been,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s gonna be pretty exciting. You know it’s gonna be sold out, you know there’s gonna be a lot of light blue tomorrow. But as an opposing team that’s exciting too.”
Can Coco Crisp be a factor?
There’s no doubt the A’s dynamic center fielder is still hurting from neck injuries. Crisp hit just .191 after the All-Star break, and his struggles at the plate played prominently in Oakland’s second-half sluggishness. But Crisp has often been his best in the A’s biggest games. And perhaps he’ll have a little extra motivation. He spent one injury-marred season with Kansas City in 2009, and he’s got a chance to really show Royals fans what he can do.
Will the A’s avoid head-slapping mistakes?
Someway, somehow, the A’s often hurt themselves this season with errors, whether it was on defense, on the base paths, or a mental mistake of some kind. It’s hard to predict when those kind of mishaps will occur, and they’re often tough to overcome. Manager Bob Melvin would love nothing more than to see his team play a clean game behind starting pitcher Jon Lester and advance to a third consecutive American League Division Series.