By JORDAN IKEDA
The Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs.
It’s only been 28 years and 10 months, but they are finally back. The Royals face off against the Oakland Athletics tonight in a one-game wild-card showdown to determine who has the privilege of taking on the Angels in the AL Division Series.
Oakland and Kansas City are statistically the two worst offensive teams in the postseason, and they’ll both be sending to the mound two of the hottest pitchers in the American League.
Jon Lester (16-11) has pitched 19 straight quality starts, (11 since being traded to Oakland), and posted a 2.18 ERA and 86:19 KK/BB ratio in 90.2 innings post All-Star break.
James Shields (14-8) has turned in six straight quality starts, and has a 2.31 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 30:4 KK/BB ratio across five September outings.
Despite the fact Shields is a former Cy Young winner, Lester has been the better pitcher this season and gives the A’s a slight edge on the mound. That said, the Royals are probably the better offensive squad at the moment. That’s in part thanks to a few of their players heating up at the right time.
One of those players, Norichika Aoki, has done his best Ichiro Suzuki-in-his-prime impersonation. Aoki’s September has been bananas — a .369 average, .912 OPS, .424 OBP with seven walks, 10 RBI, six doubles, and a pair of triples. He had nine multi-hit games that included back-to-back four-hit games followed by a three-hit game. He’s riding a nine-game hit streak into the postseason and the Royals have gone 15-11 to close out the season.
If the Royals do move on, it’s possible Jeremy Guthrie could get the ball at some point in the ALDS. Guthrie closed out the season with three straight victories in games the Royals needed to win in order to get into the postseason.
Because Kansas City fell one game shy of beating the Tigers for the division title, they’ve been forced to expend Shields in the wild-card playoff, which means Guthrie may get to start at home in a Game Three.
On Wednesday, the San Francisco Giants will face off against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild-Card Game. Travis Ishikawa began the year with the Pirates, and will now be manning left field for the Giants against them. After a hot start to the season, his bat tapered off significantly and Pittsburgh eventually let him go. He signed up with the Giants on a Minor League deal, and now that the team is without Michael Morse and Angel Pagan, he’s been moved away from first and out into left to fill the void.
He has been perfect (no errors) thus far, and is looking to keep the good play going despite having very little experience in left, having been a first baseman throughout his MLB and Minor League career. His bat also improved in the Bay. He hit .274 across 47 games with a .730 OPS, two jacks (including one memorable splash homer into McCovey Cove) and 15 RBI.