When the Athletics traded for left-hander Jon Lester -- and handed over left fielder Yoenis Cespedes in the process -- they did so for games like the one they'll play tonight. Lester is a proven postseason winner, and Oakland is counting on the pitcher to back up the reputation he earned while winning World Series titles in Boston when the A's visit Kansas City tonight for the AL Wild Card game against the Royals.
Since arriving in the deadline deal with the Red Sox, Lester pitched to a 2.35 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. More importantly, he's 3-0 against the Royals this season with a 2.61 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 202/3 innings.
The Royals, meanwhile, will end the longest active drought without a postseason game -- they hadn't reached the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series. They counter Lester with James Shields, the ace who has fared well against the A's this year (1-0, 3.21 ERA in two starts) and went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA and 180 strikeouts this season.
Neither team is an offensive juggernaut, but runs have been especially hard to come by for Oakland since the Lester deal. The A's rank 12th in the AL in runs during August and September. They might not need to score too much if Lester is at his best, but they'll need at least a run or two.
The A's should be able to muster that much, even against Shields. Josh Reddick has been particularly effective against the Royals' right-hander (.318, 3 HRs in 22 career at-bats). If anyone plays the hero on offense for Oakland, it's likely to be Reddick.
This one will be a pitchers' duel, but expect Lester and the Athletics to advance and face their division rival Angels in the ALDS.