Ten crucial matchups to watch in the AL and NL wild-card games:
1. The Royals versus the Jon Lester mystique
The left-hander's performance in the postseason last year established him as one of the best October pitchers of his generation. In 13 games over eight series in his career, Lester has a 2.11 ERA, including his work last fall, when he allowed just six earned runs in five starts. This is part of the reason Oakland traded for him; he can thrive on the big stage. He embraces the challenge of the postseason, writes Susan Slusser.
But a different narrative has developed recently among some evaluators: that Lester is not comfortable throwing to first base. He allowed five stolen bases over his final three starts of the season, including four to the Mariners on Sept. 14. The Royals do not hit homers and they don't draw walks, but they led the majors in stolen bases -- by a wide margin -- and figure to be aggressive on the basepaths tonight. Manager Ned Yost will look for chances to put pressure on the A's defense, from the first inning onward, and in a game that might have very little scoring, this could be difference-making.
Most stolen bases allowed by lefties this season
More on Lester's unwillingness to make pickoff moves: Among the 498 pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched this season, Lester was the only one who didn't attempt a single pickoff throw. There were 619 pitchers who attempted at least one pickoff throw this season. Lester threw almost 220 innings without throwing to a base.
Lester allowed 16 stolen bases this season, the fourth-most of any lefty in baseball.
2. The Athletics versus their collective psyche
The A's got into the playoffs as the second wild-card team, saved by a safety net that wasn't in place as recently as three years ago.