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.
||KC 9, OAK 8
"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.