MLB Heads Up (Wild Card Edition)
By Anthony McClean, Editor – in – Chief Emeritus
NEW HAVEN, CT (BASN/BASN NEWSROOM): We are now through with the traditional part of the MLB regular season. 162 games later, we still have a couple of spots left to decide before moving on the postseason. Welcome to the Wild Card edition of the 2014 baseball campaign. To steal a line from the NBA, it’s “win or go home” for four teams trying to nail down the last two playoff dance cards.
Today, we’ll take a look at Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s Wild Card showdowns in the American and National League. Two of the teams (Pirates, Athletics) are returnees from last year’s postseason. One missed out last year (Giants) but they have a more than impressive resume that includes two World Series crowns over the previous four campaigns.
The final participants (Royals) are making their first playoff appearance since winning it all in 1985. Ned Yost’s squad will open the AL Wild Card round on Tuesday night (8 pm ET on TBS) when they host Oakland at Kaufman Stadium. For the second straight year, Pittsburgh will host the NL Wild Card round on Wednesday (8 pm ET on ESPN) when they meet San Francisco.
Let’s look at the matchups:
AL WILD CARD GAME
Oakland Athletics (88-74) at Kansas City Royals (89-73)
Scheduled starters — OAK: John Lester (16-11, 2.46 ERA) vs. KC: James Shields (14-8, 3.21 ERA).
Season series: Royals won 5-2.
What to watch for: The first of what appears to be a bevy of interesting head-to-head pitching matchups this postseason. Both Lester and Shields were acquired by their respective teams just for games like this. Lester has gone 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts since coming to Oakland from Boston. Shields pitched 227 innings this season (his eighth consecutive year of 200 innings or more) and went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts vs. the A’s this season, both wins for the Royals.
Did you know: The A’s and Royals actually met once before in the postseason, during the 1981 Division Series, when they each won a half in a season split by the players’ strike. The A’s took the best-of-five series, outscoring Kansas City 10-2 in a three-game sweep.
Outlook: While both starters have a postseason pedigree, I get the feeling that there’s some magic going on in Kansas City. We’ll lean toward the Royals in this game.
NL WILD CARD GAME
San Francisco Giants (88-74) at Pittsburgh Pirates (88-74)
Scheduled starters — SF: Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) vs. PIT: Edison Volquez (13-7, 3.04 ERA).
Season series: Pirates won 4-2.
What to watch for: Much like the AL Wild Card game, this has the look of another great pitching matchup. Bumgarner has been a “road warrior” for the Giants with an 11-4 record and a 2.22 ERA in 18 starts away from AT&T Park. Consequently, Volquez has compiled a 1.78 ERA over his last 12 starts and finishing the season with a scoreless streak of 18 innings. However, he is winless in nine starts against the Giants since beating them twice in 2008.
Did you know: The Pirates posted a 51-30 record at PNC Park this season, which was tied with the Cardinals for the best home record among all NL teams. The only team in the Majors to boast a better home record this season was the Angels (52-29). The 51 home wins by the Pirates is the most ever at PNC Park.
Outlook: This is a tough one to pick. San Francisco is a good road team and the Bucs have been tremendous at home. Much like the previous game, I’ll lean slightly toward the home team.