“Big Game” James Shields will be on the mound for the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night when they face the Oakland A’s in the American League Wild-Card playoff game.
The A’s pitcher doesn’t have a catchy nickname. But veteran left-hander Jon Lester, acquired by Oakland at the trade deadline from Boston, is used to the spotlight.
For starters, Lester was 4-1 in the postseason for the Red Sox last season, including a pair of wins over the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. In his five starts, Lester allowed only 25 hits in 34.2 innings and gave up just six runs.
The 30-year-old Lester was acquired by the A’s specifically for moments like this. But Oakland nearly didn’t even make it to the playoffs, surviving a late-season slide to slip into the postseason on the season’s final day Sunday.
Lester is 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA since joining Oakland and has made 11 starts. He’ll be a handful for the light-hitting Royals.
Lester has had some of his greatest success against Kansas City over the years, including a no-hitter on May 19, 2008, at Fenway Park during a 7-0 Boston win.
Lester beat Kansas City starter Luke Hochevar that night and allowed only two baserunners – both on walks. The Royals’ Billy Butler drew a one-out walk in the second inning, after which Lester retired 19 straight before walking Esteban German to lead off the ninth.
Lester is 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA against the Royals during his career and has pitched at least six innings in 10 of his 13 starts against Kansas City.
The Royals are batting only .196 against Lester with just 18 extra-base hits – 16 doubles, one triple, one home run – in 311 at-bats. Kansas City’s OPS against Lester is a woeful .540.
Right about now, I suspect Royals fans who are reading this need a boost. So here it is: Lester is just 2-3 against Kansas City at Kauffman Stadium, where he’s giving up 26 hits and 12 walks in five starts covering 29 innings. His ERA at Kauffman is 3.10; in home games he pitches against the Royals it’s 1.22.
Lester made three regular-season starts against the Royals this season – one while with the Red Sox and two since joining Oakland.
With Boston on July 20, Lester pitched eight shutout innings against Kansas City during a 6-0 Boston win. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out eight.
Just 13 days later, with Oakland, Lester beat the Royals in Oakland, 8-3. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowing nine hits and three runs while striking out three.
In Kansas City on Aug. 12, Lester and the A’s beat the Royals, 11-3. He allowed six hits and three runs in six innings, walking two and striking out nine.
That makes Lester 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA against the Royals this season.
Not many Royals have had success against Lester. Lorenzo Cain is 5 of 16 against the lefty with three doubles. Catcher Salvador Perez has three hits in six at-bats against Lester with a double while first baseman Eric Hosmer is 4 of 13 with Kansas City’s only homer against Lester. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is 5 of 17 with two doubles.
Butler, Alex Gordon and Omar Infante, meanwhile, are a combined 10 of 68 against Lester with three doubles.
Later today, I’ll take the same kind of look at Shields and how he’s fared against Oakland over the years.
Thanks for reading.