For A's to advance, here are three keys

For A's to advance, here are three keys

The A's locked down their third consecutive playoff berth on the final day of the regular season, sparking an emotional celebration for a team that's endured its share of ups and downs this year. But the party can only last so long, and the A's don't have much time to keep it going, with only one day separating their clinching win over the Rangers and Tuesday's meeting with the Royals in the American League Wild Card Game at Kauffman Stadium on TBS at 5 p.m. PT.

That means the A's have just one day to prepare for a one-game playoff against a Kansas City club they saw seven times this season and struggled to the tune of a 2-5 record along the way. The Royals are even hungrier now, looking to win their first playoff game in nearly three decades. Here are three keys for the A's to stop the Royals and advance to the AL Division Series against the Angels.

Forget about the past

Could the team that almost didn't make it in win it all? The A's like the sound of that, but they need to win this one game to keep moving forward, and in order to do so, they must treat it like a clean slate, following an ugly second half that culminated in a 29-38 record.

  Date   Result Highlights
  Sept. 30   KC 9, OAK 8 video

 "There was a lot of weight on our shoulders leading up to this, because for a team that had 14 consecutive winning months, to play two months in the fashion that we did was tough," said manager Bob Melvin. "We weren't used to it. It was foreign territory, and it was perplexing to everybody. Hopefully to get this weight off our shoulder, we get back to doing the things that we do and have done consistently."

That means aligning a strong pitching performance with a productive offense and sound defense and not carrying the pressure that burdened each of these all too often in the second half.

Do your damage early

Kansas City's bullpen trio of Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis is truly a formidable force, having combined for a 1.28 ERA and 258 strikeouts in 205 1/3 innings in the regular season. So the A's can't bank on scratching a run or two across after going through starter James Shields, meaning they must get Jon Lester a lead early -- a formula that sparked a positive trend in the regular season.

The A's were 57-18 when scoring first, compared to 31-56 when their opponent got to the scoreboard before them, and it typically starts with leadoff man Coco Crisp, whose ability to ward off second-half struggles and get on base will be significant for an offense that's been hot and cold of late.

From there, the middle-of-the-order production is just as important. The A's have the personnel to produce plenty of pop -- Adam Dunn, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss -- but they have seen little of it in recent months. Now's the time to exploit it again, while counting on the likes of Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt and Jed Lowrie to keep the momentum going behind them.

Control the running game

The Royals were 6-for-6 in stolen-base attempts in seven games against the A's this season. Though a small sample size, it perfectly demonstrates a large season-long issue: Opponents were successful in 100 out of 128 attempts against Oakland during the regular season. However, it's mostly a reflection of Derek Norris and John Jaso, who received the majority of the starts behind the plate.

Geovany Soto, however, has thrown out eight of his 16 runners since joining the A's via an August trade from the Rangers, giving him the edge for a start over Norris behind the plate.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.