Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, September 29, 2014 at 5:00 PM
For the first two thirds of the season, it looked like the Oakland A’s might make a run at history. They were absolutely crushing the American League, with a run differential that was off the charts for a team that had to play home games in a pitcher’s park. Kansas City was a fringe contender that had a shot at a Wildcard, but certainly wasn’t scaring anyone.
You can pick different spots in the summer where those switches got flipped. The easiest point to pick is at the end of July when Oakland decided it had to make some trades that would help them in the playoffs. Reaching October was a foregone conclusion. Could Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” approach finally win in the playoffs. They needed to stockpile aces! On July 31, they traded for Jon Lester of Boston (who, coincidentally, will get the start for them Tuesday Night in the Wildcard play-in game against the Royals).
Standings on August 1, 2014
Kansas City 56-52
That’s a championship team on top…and a team a few games over .500 who could go either way moving forward. You can see why the A’s were so confident about their greatness.
Since August 1
Kanas City 33-21
Whoa! Acquiring Lester (and other pitchers) didn’t improve the team. Oakland fell apart! Team-building is never as simple as it seems! Kansas City got hot, which was partly due to finding themselves, and partly from playing in a bad AL Central division that created a very easy stretch run schedule.
Keep that dynamic in mind as we run through the preview stats we used this past summer here in the NOTEBOOK. These are full season numbers…
Oakland: 4.50 runs per game, .320 on-base, .381 slugging
Kansas City: 4.02 runs per game, .314 on-base, .376 slugging
Oakland was getting more production out of what turned out to be fairly similar on-base and slugging marks. Because Oakland’s offense fell off the map during their slump, you can assume that “recent form” actually favors Kansas City with the bats. Neither team has been particularly scary in terms of what you’d expect against playoff caliber pitching.
Jon Lester: 2.46 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.0 K-Rate, 6.9 IP-per-Start
James Shields: 3.21 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.1 K-Rate, 6.7 IP-per-Start
Lester clearly had an ace caliber season, and is more likely to control his destiny Tuesday Night because of the higher strikeout rate. If you assume that Kansas City has the recent edge with the bats…then Lester counteracts that nicely in the numbers above. Playoff baseball often feels like a coin flip anyway. The numbers say we’re looking at a coin flip in the Wildcard play-in game.
FULL SEASON MARKET
Oakland: 88-74 record, -16 units
Kansas City: 89-73 record, +3 units
Even though Kansas City rallied to earn the slightly better record (which got them home field Tuesday), they were much better against market prices. That being said, BOTH teams did a lot of underachieving of their prices if 16 games over .500 only yielded three units for Royals backers, and 14 games over .500 led to a disastrous 16-unit loss for A’s backers. Throughout the entire collapse, Vegas oddsmakers kept pricing Oakland like World Champions even if they had suddenly turned into Houston.
Current Line: Kansas City -115, total of 6.5
That 6.5 is a very low total for an American League game with designated hitters. But, these offenses have been overmatched by quality, and both teams are obviously putting quality on the mound with the season on the line. The Royals are getting a pricing nod for home field advantage in what otherwise looks like a toss-up.
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We’ll talk about the National League Wildcard game matching San Francisco and Pittsburgh in our Wednesday edition of the NOTEBOOK. Then, it’s back to marquee TV football matchups in the NFL and college football Thursday through Monday. Whatever the sport, whatever the handicapping and sports betting challenge, DON’T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!