Tonight officially begins the 2014 baseball postseason, with the more intriguing of the two matchups, as Jon Lester and the Athletics take on James Shields and the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Here’s a fun fact: If you go on Bovada right now, you can put money on the Royals at 18:1 to win the World Series, the biggest longshot of any team in the field. Vegas currently has the Dodgers as the favorite to win it all at 4.5:1, with the Angels (5:1) and Tigers (6:1) as the frontrunners to take it home out of the American League.
Think about that 18:1 though. Should the Royals come out on top tonight in a coinflip game against Lester, they will be in a field with seven other clubs; if we concede that the baseball playoffs are a crapshoot (which they have proven to be), it really means a team only has to get hot for, at the absolute maximum, 19 games (11 wins). Thanks to the beauty of small sample sizes, that reasonably suggests Kansas City has a 50% chance of winning the ALDS, a 50% chance of winning the ALCS, and another 50% of defeating whomever they would theoretically play in the World Series. The odds of all three happening would be cutting 100 in half (to reach the CS), then 50 in half (to reach the WS), then 25 in half (to win the WS).
That’s 12.5%, or 1-in-8 (obviously). Of course, they first have to defeat the Athletics tonight, so I suppose you could cut that 12.5% figure in half to make it 1-in-16, but if they did, you could make a lot of money by giving up very little. There are worse bets in the world than putting $100 down to make $1,800, but even if you only put $25 down you’d still make $450.
With that said, the pick:
Athletics (+1.5, -215) over Royals (-1.5, +175)
If I was putting money on this individual game (which I’m not), there’s no way I could bring myself to picking against the Royals at +175, because the thought of making less than fifty cents on the dollar to pick Oakland isn’t very appealing in a one-game, do-or-die format. Like I said, the playoffs are a crapshoot, but it’s even more random when you’re talking about one individual game. The thought that I’d have to put up $215 to make $100 by picking the favorite is bollocks, and if the Royals were to win I couldn’t see it being anything other than a 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 type of game, so I wouldn’t win any money by picking them, anyway.
Jon Lester (2.76 ERA, 3.10 xFIP) is the superior of the two starting pitchers, and he’s facing the lesser of the two offenses. If you need my rationale in one sentence as to why I think Oakland will win, it’s because of that.
James Shields (3.21 ERA, 3.56 xFIP) isn’t a slouch by any means, but he has two things working against him in this matchup. For starters, he’s pitched better on the road in 2014 (2.97 ERA) than he has at home (3.51 ERA), where he’ll be toeing the rubber tonight. In fact, last year, too, Shields’s road ERA was 2.07 compared to 4.37 in Kansas City. If you consider that a negligible tidbit, I won’t argue with you.
Secondly, the Royals, as a whole, do not have a very good offense. In 2014 they had the lowest walk rate (6.3%) in MLB, and their 95 HRs were the lowest in baseball by 10. The next-closest American League team to that figure was the Rangers at 111, 16 more. (The Rangers, of course, had the worst record in the league.) The one saving grace as far as the Kansas City offense is concerned is that they don’t strike out a lot — relative to the rest of baseball — as their 16.3% K rate was the lowest in MLB by a wide margin. They also have a good amount of team speed, which will help if it’s a close game in the later innings.
With that said, the Royals are making a potentially grave mistake tonight in the starting lineup; they’re hitting left-handed Eric Hosmer in the most pivotal spot in the batting order (4th) against one of the best lefty pitchers in baseball, and are sitting the right-handed Josh Willingham, one of their best (and only) opposite-side hitters with the ability to take Lester out of the park. I don’t really understand that one.
As I mentioned, if I was betting on the game I’d have to take the Royals at +175 and hope for the best, hope they could muster out a two-run victory against the better team and the better pitcher. Putting money on Oakland is just a bad bet, frankly, because you won’t get much return on your dollar.
My heart wants Kansas City to win this game very badly, both for their sake and my own as a Rangers fan, but all the logic points this in the direction of a 3-1 Oakland victory.