Thoughts from the Dugout: Wild for the Wild Card Games!

Image of Madison Bumgarner

After much ado (or relatively little), we’ve reached October, the best time of the year to be a baseball fan. Ten teams will vie for the right to play in the World Series. It’s a month long extravaganza featuring the best of the best.

But first…

Wild Card Round

A one game playoff where the winner moves on to play the division winner with the best record in their respective league, and the loser goes home.

American League Wild Card Game (ALWCG)

Image of Jon Lester and James Shields

(God, they need a better title for these things.)

Oakland A’s at Kansas City Royals, Sept. 30th, 8:07 pm EST/7:07 pm CST on TBS

For the first time since Ronald Reagan was President, there will be a playoff game at Kaufmann Stadium.

To wit, in 1985, when the Royals last made the playoffs:

  • Star Wars was only eight years old
  • There were only two Indiana Jones movies
  • Alien had not had a sequel yet
  • There were only 26 teams in MLB
  • The Soviet Union was still a thing
  • Most of the current players on the Royals weren’t alive

So there ya go.

Oakland, after its catastrophic free fall, barely held on to the second slot, maintaining a one game lead in the standings above the Mariners. However, their starting pitcher will be Jon Lester, for whom they traded for just such an occasion. Lester has been as excellent as advertised for the A’s, with a 2.35 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over August and September. He has a career 2.11 ERA in 13 career postseason games, so it’s safe to say he’s comfortable in the spotlight. Meanwhile, the Royals will counter with staff ace James Shields, he of a career 4.98 postseason ERA – although that can be attributed to two crappy Wild Card games in 2010 and 2011. In terms of line-ups, you have the A’s blasted shell of a roster which hasn’t scored at the same rate since Yoenis Cespides was traded against the Royals, who somehow scrape together just under four runs a game in spite of trailing nearly every team in the league in most offensive categories.

The one factor that might make a difference is something I’ll talk about below – how a beleaguered fan base starved for postseason success can turn into a rabid monstrosity capable of rattling the most seasoned pitcher. We saw the same thing last year with PNC Park in Pittsburgh – there’s an off chance that the same could happen at Kaufmann Stadium this year. Something tells me otherwise, though. In the end, I think experience will carry Oakland over the young Royals experiencing their first taste of postseason baseball. Prediction: Oakland 6, Royals 2

National League Wild Card Game (NLWCG)

Image of Andrew McCutchen

(Seriously, they need to change the name. Like, stat.)

San Francisco Giants at Pittsburgh Pirates, Oct. 1st at 8:07 pm EST/7:07 pm CST

<remembers last October>

<shudders>

PNC Park is a place where visiting postseason teams go to get their hearts broken. Sure, the Giants have MVP candidate Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Joe Panik, Pablo Sandoval, and Brandon Crawford going against Edinson Volquez, who has only this year turned his career around into something resembling a starting pitcher as opposed to a beer-league softball player. And sure, Madison Bumgarner turned into the staff ace by de facto, and while he has to pitch against another MVP candidate in Andrew McCutchen, Josh Harrison, Russell Martin, et. all, he also gets to feast upon the weaker half of the Pirates line-up, which doesn’t exactly strike fear into the opposition.

So why am I picking the Pirates?

  • Edinson Volquez is extremely hot right now, currently throwing a 17 inning scoreless streak with a 1.78 ERA over his last 12 starts
  • Bumgarner is not so hot, with a 3.08 ERA in the month of September. Not bad, but not as good.
  • Andrew McCutchen is still hot, and can carry a team.
  • The Giants are in the midst of their own tailspin, and have lost quite a bit of the momentum they had built up three weeks ago when I gave them my Big League Chew of the Week Award.
  • Pirates fans will be Raising the Jolly Roger high over the park, and will be out for blood after their first taste of October baseball last year.

There’s not a lot to be made of prior October experience (just ask the Red Sox how that works out) in this instance – the Giants are two years removed from their last World Series championship, while the Pirates have only the memory of beating a mismanaged Reds team and losing to the Cardinals in five games last year. Having said that, I still remember the center field camera shaking because of the sheer volume of PNC Park last year, when everyone was just happy to be crashing the party. This year, the Pirates want more. This might be the start of a wicked run…(into the Nationals). Prediction: Pirates 5, Giants 3

Image of PNC Park

Seriously, this might be one of the five most beautiful sports venues in America.

Play ball.

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook

Travis J. Cook is the Editor-in-Chief and one of the original founders of the Addison Recorder. He writes about baseball, movies, and music, among other topics. He resides in a hole in the ground near Wrigley Field.

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