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In moments like this, Lester wants the ball

In moments like this, Lester wants the ball

KANSAS CITY -- Don't look at the calendar, don't look at the uniforms and don't check the ticket stub. It doesn't matter that Jon Lester is pitching in a tense postseason elimination game Tuesday, because he doesn't need to turn it up a notch -- ever.

The intensity Lester will bring to the mound in a marquee matchup with the Royals' James Shields in the winner-take-all American League Wild Card Game on TBS at 5 p.m. PT is much the same as he brought to pickup basketball games as a kid growing up in Washington state. The attitude, he said, will be the same one he had in his starts at the beginning of the season, when the stakes weren't so high.

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That's just how he rolls. He's on the mound, so it's on, all the way. Right now, way back then or the next time.

"Believe or not, I've kind of always tried to take this approach, whether it's a start April 15 or if it's this game now," Lester said on the eve of the biggest start in his short A's tenure. "The competitiveness in me does not allow me to throttle back or throttle more.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

"I try to take that same mentality into every game, whether it's April 15 against the Royals or Sept. 30. It's the same mentality, same preparation, same routine. Nothing changes because the game means more. I think that keeps me even-keeled."

It's with that background that Lester will make the type of start the A's envisioned when they acquired him from the Red Sox along with outfielder Jonny Gomes for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Much has been made about how the A's went 22-33 the final two months after the deal, but Lester's performance since the swap has been unquestioned.

While in A's colors, Lester finished out what stands as his best regular season of his nine in the Majors, his 2.46 ERA a career standard by the better part of a run to go along with several other career bests. With a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts with the A's and a 1.80 ERA in his final 19 starts, his 2.46 ERA for the season was the second lowest since 1920 by a Major Leaguer who pitched for two or more teams in one season (John Tudor, 2.32, Cardinals/Dodgers, 1988).

Add in a sparkling postseason resume, and this guy at this moment is the dictionary definition of an ace perfectly suited for this type of game.

"It's one of those things you can't help but see what he's done -- he's pitched in the World Series, he's pitched in big games," said A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, the team's leader on the lineup side. "He's going to pitch in another big game for us [Tuesday]."

Certainly, A's manager Bob Melvin is glad to have the veteran left-hander on the mound for the most important game of the year.

"This is why you get a Jon Lester, to pitch in big games," Melvin said Monday. "The way we set up our rotation coming down the stretch had this game in mind."

Lester's history on the mound in the postseason takes his ace status to a whole new level. He has gone 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances overall, including a 1.97 ERA in his 11 starting assignments. Last October, he was 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts as the Red Sox rolled to the World Series title.

"Last year if David Ortiz hadn't done what he did, Jon Lester would have probably been the World Series MVP with the way he steps up in the postseason," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

And then there's Lester's history against the Royals -- his best results against any team he has faced.

Lester is 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 career starts vs. the Royals, covering 88 innings of work, no small sample size. He is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three starts vs. Kansas City this year -- the first with the Red Sox and the other two accounting for the only victories the A's had in seven regular-season meetings with the Royals this season.

His career ERA vs. Kansas City is his best against any American league team, and it ranks as the lowest career ERA vs. the Royals for any pitcher with 75 innings pitched or more. Lester obviously has made his presence known in Kansas City.

"We know we have a tough situation tomorrow with him," said Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon, who is 4-for-25 (.160) vs. Lester for his career. "We faced him three or four times this year, and he's been tough on us every time. So it's going to be a fight, but we're up for the challenge."

The Royals, and anybody else who has followed the left-hander the past several years, know for sure Lester will be up for it, too. He's always up for a challenge.

Lester takes on each challenge with the same intensity and focus, something the Royals have seen plenty of over the years entering this matchup on the postseason stage.

"But 9-3 and all that other stuff doesn't really matter now," Lester said. "It's the postseason. Start back at zero and see what happens."

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

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A's WC roster features long men, versatile offense

Oakland carrying eight pitchers as well as speed, switch-hitting options

A's WC roster features long men, versatile offense

KANSAS CITY -- The A's have opted to go with eight pitchers on their 25-man roster for tonight's winner-take-all AL Wild Card Game in Kansas City.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

As expected, Oakland is carrying just one extra starter not named Jon Lester, who will take the bump against the Royals for his 12th career postseason start. That would be right-hander Jason Hammel, who last pitched Thursday.

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Lefty Drew Pomeranz is also on the roster, giving the A's two true long men in their bullpen for the affair. They'll be joined by closer Sean Doolittle, right-handers Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero and Ryan Cook, and left-hander Fernando Abad. Fellow southpaw Eric O'Flaherty is not on the roster because of a reported arm injury.

Starters Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kazmir, all of whom pitched over the weekend, were left off the list, because clubs can alter rosters for a potential AL Division Series.

With just eight roster spots allotted to pitchers, the A's have a deep bench on hand for the crucial game, featuring a slew of right-handed batters not expected to be in the starting lineup against Kansas City ace James Shields, including Derek Norris, Jonny Gomes and Nate Freiman. Oakland can also counter with switch-hitters Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo.

Speed is there in pinch-run options Billy Burns and Sam Fuld, and so is infielder Andy Parrino, who provides excellent defense as a backup option to starting shortstop Jed Lowrie.

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

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A's to lean on playoff vet Lester in Kansas City

With long drought over, Royals look to get past A's and into ALDS

A's to lean on playoff vet Lester in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY -- It took two of the biggest blockbuster trades of the last couple of years to put together tonight's marquee mound matchup in the American League Wild Card Game, and this is just the type of game those swaps were made for in the first place.

When James Shields pitches the Royals into the postseason for the first time since 1985 against A's left-hander and well-established postseason star Jon Lester, the starting pitchers will be fulfilling a destiny their teams hoped would come to fruition when they acquired them, and now that day has arrived for both.

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With the pitching duel taking center stage, the Royals and A's will meet in an 8:07 p.m. ET start for the right to advance to the AL Division Series, where the AL West champion Angels await their opponent.

Simply put, the Shields-Lester matchup figures to tell the tale of which of these two teams will play on and which will go home. And the huge trades that brought them here will be put to their stiffest test.

In December 2012, the Royals went all-in to improve their starting rotation by acquiring Shields and Wade Davis, sending top outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Rays. This past July 31, the A's acquired Lester from the Red Sox along with Jonny Gomes for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

As his club prepared to face Shields in the winner-take-all affair, A's manager Bob Melvin couldn't help but notice how the two career paths have intersected for this game.

"I think it's real similar to the Lester situation for us," Melvin said. "[Shields has] been here for a while longer, where Jon was kind of a hired gun brought in, he and Jonny Gomes with a couple of months left.

"I think their feeling amongst their team is probably going to be similar to the way that we feel based on his history in pitching in those games. There are certain guys that step up and embrace the pressure and embrace being in that situation, and you're talking about both the starting pitchers [Tuesday]."

Even before Shields was acquired in the franchise-changing trade two winters ago, he earned the moniker Big Game James -- but this game is the biggest of his career. Shields notched his eighth straight 200-inning season with 227 innings this season, and now it's time for him to make the start Royals fans have been anticipating the last two years -- or three decades, take your pick.

"When I came over here, I knew exactly what was going on," said Shields, whose six postseason starts (2-4, 4.98 ERA) came with the Rays. "I knew that this city's been wanting a championship team for a long time, and a playoff team. Hopefully we did the city proud. We've got a long way to go still, but we're going to keep grinding."

Lester, meanwhile, owns one of the most impressive postseason resumes around, going 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 11 starts and two relief appearances in October. That includes two starts in the World Series last year in which he allowed one earned run in 15 1/3 innings.

And Lester has done everything the A's had hoped so far, going 6-4 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts for Oakland to finish with career bests in ERA (2.46), innings pitched (219 2/3) and several other categories.

The Royals took the season series 5-2, with all seven games played in the first two weeks of August, just after the Lester-Cespedes swap. Lester won both games for the A's, allowing three runs each time while getting a lot of offensive support in 8-3 and 11-3 victories. Shields, meanwhile, went 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts vs. the A's this season, both wins for the Royals.

Since those August days, both teams have been through a lot, some good and some bad -- but both winding up with a champagne shower, and that's the bottom line.

"You have to find a way to get in, whatever," Lester said. "Obviously the path we took wasn't what we drew up, but everything happens for a reason. Maybe it will make us a little bit strong, a little bit better on Tuesday."

Athletics: Donaldson key at hot corner
Battling hip, hamstring and knee injuries all year, third baseman Josh Donaldson still managed to put up big power numbers -- a career-high 29 homers and 98 RBIs, both team highs -- while providing eye-popping defensive plays at third.

So it was with a collective lump in their throat the A's watched him grab his knee Friday night, in obvious pain. He played through it, and was back in there for Saturday's game -- hitting a homer in his first at-bat -- and Sunday's, and he's ready to go for Tuesday.

"That's the guy that that clubhouse looks to," Lester said of Donaldson. "Obviously we can see him running around the bases isn't too comfortable, but he continues to go out there and grind and give us quality at-bats and give us really, really good defense at third for us."

Royals: Blockbuster benefited bullpen, too
While Shields has done everything the Royals could have expected as a front-line starter since his acquisition from Tampa Bay, Davis has undergone a change in role -- for the better. Brought over as a starter, Davis has transformed into a reliever, posting one of the more dominant setup seasons in recent memory with a club strikeout record for relievers of 109, good for 13.6 strikeouts per nine innings.

With an ace in Shields and a premium setup man in Davis, the trade that sent a package including Myers to the Rays is paying dividends.

"It's everything that we hoped it would be," general manager Dayton Moore said. "When you make deals, you hope and expect them to work for both organizations. I think it's turned out that way. It strengthened our pitching to a point where we were able to play competitive baseball from the first day to the last."

Worth noting
• The A's and Royals actually met once before in the postseason, during the 1981 Division Series, when they each won a half in a season split by a work stoppage. The A's took the best-of-five series, outscoring Kansas City 10-2 in a three-game sweep.

• The Athletics played in Kansas City from 1955-67 before moving to Oakland for the 1968 season. The Royals' franchise began in 1969, joining the Major Leagues with the San Diego Padres, the Montreal Expos and the Seattle Pilots, who became the Milwaukee Brewers the next year.

• The last postseason game played at Kauffman Stadium, then known as Royals Stadium, was an 11-0 victory for the Royals over the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, clinching the title. The Royals were in the playoffs seven times in a span of 10 seasons from 1976-85 before their drought.

• Since the Royals' last time in the postseason, the A's have reached the playoffs 11 times, winning the World Series in 1989 and last reaching the AL Championship Series in 2006 -- their one time advancing in seven times reaching the ALDS since 2000.

• The Royals took the season series 5-2, but the A's outscored the Royals in those seven games, 26-24.

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

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Lester keeps battling back, winning admirers

Cancer survivor has never met challenge he can't handle, including postseason

Lester keeps battling back, winning admirers

When Jon Lester takes the mound for his latest big game tonight in Kansas City, they will be rooting for him in Oakland, Boston, Tacoma, Wash., and various places in between.

Quite simply, Lester -- who will try to pitch the A's to victory in the Wild Card Game on TBS at 5 p.m. PT -- is an easy guy to root not just for what he has accomplished, but for who he is and what he has been through.

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Back in 2006, while at the age of 22, Lester was rocked with the news that he had anaplastic large cell lymphoma. After discussing his diagnosis with amazing poise and courage for someone his age, Lester overcame the cancer, battling through chemotherapy treatments with the same resilience that has made him such a success story on the mound.

"When our whole team was done with practice, he would stick around afterwards and run extras corners and things like that," said Rick Barnhart, Lester's high school coach at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. "You wouldn't know he was this stand-out talent, because he was always working harder than everyone else. That was always a pretty cool thing."

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

It was a trait Lester took with him through every level of the Red Sox's farm system after being selected in the second round by Boston in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft.

Even as a young pitcher in the Majors, Lester became someone all the other pitchers were told to emulate.

"He's an easy guy to follow," said Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz. "He does everything right. Obviously he makes every start he's asked to make."

And in those starts, Lester never gives an inch. It was true for all those years in Boston, and it has happened again in Oakland, where he was traded on July 31 for Yoenis Cespedes.

"He's a really fierce competitor," said Buchholz. "When he's out on the mound, he's an emotional guy and he wants to do so well and he's a perfectionist to some extent and that's probably the best thing for a pitcher to want to be perfect. Nobody can be perfect, but you want to be as close as you can to that. He's been a horse for a long time."

This start against the Royals will be one that should draw interest from a lot of fans and teams because Lester is up for grabs come November as a free agent. Of course, the lefty is simply relishing another shot at the postseason, and will be making his 12th career playoff start, which is sixth most among active starters.

"I'll never take for granted that I get to go to the postseason," Lester said.

But once that postseason ends, expect a flurry of teams to get in the bidding, considering that Lester is in the prime of his career at 30 years old. Even now, after having won a pair of World Series championships with Boston and been the author of a no-hitter, there has never been a hint of arrogance from Lester. His even demeanor is just like it was back at Bellarmine Prep.

"The cool thing really was as it kind of got more and more obvious that he was going to be a real high-round pick, there would be 25 scouts at every game and phone calls all the time," Barnhart said. "But you wouldn't really know it necessarily from him. He was just the same hard-working guy."

If Lester can pitch the A's past the Royals, perhaps he will get on the same kind of run he did last October, when he went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts in helping the Red Sox win their third World Series title in nine years.

"It's a great story," said Barnhart. "Sometimes you think it's like a made-for-TV movie. This kid comes walking in and does so great and he gets knocked off his feet. Then he comes back."

Now Lester is back where he's most comfortable -- pitching with his team's entire season at stake.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Numbers favor Aoki, Reddick against WC aces

Stats reveal plenty of variables that could factor into Lester-Shields matchup

Numbers favor Aoki, Reddick against WC aces

With aces Jon Lester and James Shields starting and both teams featuring strong bullpens, Tuesday night's American League Wild Card Game (8 ET, TBS) between the A's and Royals has all the makings of a low-scoring affair in which even the smallest advantage could be the difference.

One key angle to watch is how KC will fare against the left-handed Lester. While the Royals have generally handled lefties pretty well this year -- .710 OPS as a team, eighth in the AL -- their lineup will likely feature a handful of hitters who struggle against southpaws (more on that below). Of course, Lester was actually tougher on righties this year than ever before, holding them to a .230/.273/.344 line. Lefties actually fared better, hitting .258/.307/.389.

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On the flip side, the Royals may be the best run-prevention team in baseball. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, they have the best defense in MLB, and Kaufman Stadium is a notoriously tough park in which to go deep, ranking 12th in the AL this season in home run park factor. In other words, it's hard to hit one out, and the Royals defense will get to everything else, making it extremely tough to score on them.

In the fight to advance to an AL Division Series matchup with the Angels, one favorable matchup might be enough to turn the tide for one team or the other. Here's a look at some other numbers that could make an impact.

Nori Aoki fared the best of any Royals hitter against Lester this season, going 4-for-9 with two RBIs. Lorenzo Cain was 3-for-8 with a pair of doubles, while Alcides Escobar was 3-for-7 with one two-bagger.

• Lester, on the other hand, held both Omar Infante and Billy Butler hitless in nine at-bats, while Mike Moustakas went 0-for-5 against him.

• Shields has faced Adam Dunn more than any other A's hitter, since the slugger spent plenty of time in the AL Central with the White Sox. As a member of the Royals, Shields has held Dunn to a .240 average (6-for-25) with one home run, two walks and 11 strikeouts.

• In the last two seasons, Josh Reddick has enjoyed the most success against Shields among current A's, going 4-for-6 with four extra-base hits. Reddick homered twice off Shields on Aug. 3, then reached him for a double and a triple Aug. 14.

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

Coco Crisp has struggled the most against Shields during his time with Kansas City, going 0-for-7 with no walks and one strikeout.

• Though the Royals certainly are glad to have the game at home, Shields actually posted a better ERA on the road (2.97) than at Kauffman Stadium (3.51). However, Shields produced a superior strikeout-to-walk ratio in Kansas City (4.5, compared with 3.9).

• Both starting pitchers excelled in key spots this season. Shields held batters to a .545 OPS in high-leverage situations, as determined by Baseball-Reference.com, while Lester gave up a .613 mark.

• Batters hit .227 against Lester through his 75th pitch this season, but .262 afterward, with six of their 16 home runs.

• Among likely Royals starters, Aoki (.863 OPS), Butler (.847) and Cain (.827) have done the most damage against left-handers, while Salvador Perez (.632), Infante (.584) and Moustakas (.554) had the most trouble.

• Aoki was the Royals' best hitter at Kauffman Stadium, posting a .322/.383/.419 line. Moustakas, on the other hand, hit .185/.259/.306 at home.

• When the Royals need a big hit, Alex Gordon has been their man, batting .338 with seven homers and 58 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

• Reddick (.849) was the only A's player with finish with an OPS of at least .800 against righties.

• With Geovany Soto likely to start at catcher for Oakland, Derek Norris could be a weapon off the bench, especially against a left-handed reliever. Norris hit .311/.393/.470 off lefties this year and went 4-for-15 with a double, a home run and three walks as a pinch-hitter.

• Norris (.995 OPS), Josh Donaldson (.908), Brandon Moss (.858) and Dunn (.824) all have mashed with runners in scoring position.

• In the A's bullpen, Ryan Cook (.442 opponents' OPS), Fernando Abad (.475), Dan Otero (.539) and closer Sean Doolittle enjoyed the most success against right-handed batters. Doolittle (.276), Luke Gregerson (.526), Abad (.527) and Eric O'Flaherty (.536) all owned left-handed batters.

• The Royals have the last three innings of the game covered with the trio of right-handers Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and closer Greg Holland. They combined to hold right-handed batters to a .153 average, while lefties managed only a .203 mark.

Any of these numbers, small samples or not, could come into play at a critical moment Tuesday.

Perhaps it will be Aoki continuing his recent success against Lester, or Reddick doing the same against Shields. Perhaps it will be one of those starters bearing down to get an out with the game on the line. Or it could be Norris getting a crucial hit off the bench or Gordon bringing home the winning run from third.

The answer could dictate which club moves on and which begins its offseason on Wednesday.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

After a 2,001-game drought, Dunn finally reaches postseason

After a 2,001-game drought, Dunn finally reaches postseason

KANSAS CITY -- At first, Adam Dunn didn't know what to do. But once he figured out how to celebrate, he was a wildly enthusiastic participant in the Athletics' clubhouse party at Globe Life Ballpark in Arlington.

Last seen Sunday afternoon, Dunn was sliding across a beer soaked piece of plastic in his baseball gear and ski goggles. He might even have gulped a little from some of the bigger puddles.

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If you think he's going to apologize, you don't know Dunn and how much he coveted the chance to play in a postseason game.

"Long time, man,'' Dunn said after the A's workout on Monday. "Long time. Didn't get to pop champagne in high school.''

When the 34-year-old slugger steps in to face Kansas City's James Shields in the first inning of tonight's American League Wild Card Game on TBS at 5 p.m. PT at Kauffman Stadium, he'll end his career-long drought of never playing in a postseason game.

Dunn's 2,001-game streak had been the longest among active players. That distinction will pass to his former White Sox teammate Alex Rios, who has played 1,586 without getting a chance in October.

"I hope he gets in,'' Dunn said. "That's bad. That's such a bad thing.''

Dunn spent most of the last four seasons with the White Sox after short stints with the Nationals and Diamondbacks. He started his career with the Reds, when they were in the middle of a 14-year postseason drought.

When he was traded to Oakland on Aug. 31, just in time to be eligible to play in the postseason, the A's had slipped five games behind the Angels in the AL West had a seemingly comfortable cushion of 4 1/2 games for a Wild Card spot. It seemed his ship had come in, yet then came a 4-11 stretch that knocked one of baseball's most ambitious teams -- one that traded for Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija in July -- into a precarious position.

Suddenly there was a possibility that Dunn could once again miss out on October as the Mariners threatened to overtake the A's.

"When we were [sitting in the clubhouse] watching those Seattle games, and they ended up winning them, you could see something was up with Adam,'' Samardzija said. "He usually talks, he's usually vocal, likes to have a good time, but he wasn't saying a word.''

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

Dunn admits it was painful to experience September angst with a new team. He fought off a sense of deja vu, as the Tigers had passed his White Sox in September two years ago, leaving him on the outside looking in at the postseason.

"It was pretty stressful,'' Dunn said. "You had opportunities to get in and not wait until the last day. But you could almost see after that third out [on Sunday], the weight was lifted off everybody's chest. The ultimate goal is to make it, and we made it. Well, they made it. I just sort of jumped on, reaping the fruits of their labor for five months.''

While Dunn downplays his significance on the A's, Samardzija says he was welcomed because of both his presence in the lineup and solid character in the clubhouse. How many other guys would even still be playing after having a year like Dunn did in 2011, when he batted .159 with 177 strikeouts in the first year of a four-year contract?

"He's always done it the right way,'' Samardzija said. "Played every day, never complained, never whined. I was in Chicago when he had that tough [season]. They couldn't run him out of town fast enough. He never said a thing. Never made an excuse. To have a guy like him on this team when we were going through what we were going through was outstanding.''

The Royals know that Dunn could turn around a game that they expect to be a pitchers' duel between James Shields and Lester. He has hit 462 career home runs [tied for 35th all-time], including 22 this season.

"I like the matchup with him and Shields but it's scary too,'' Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Adam Dunn can hit the ball out of the ballpark to any field, even in our big park here. He's crushed balls here. We know he's a high on-base percentage guy, and he's a guy who can catch one and put three runs on the board in a hurry. He's a guy you're going to have to pitch carefully.''

Dunn is a career .200 hitter against Shields, with only one home run in 35 at-bats.

"He's very tough,'' Dunn said. "But if you're in the playoffs, you're going to face really good pitching every day you're fortunate enough to move on. He's an ace, and I don't throw that term around too often.''

Dunn is known for working deep counts and drawing walks, which is largely why the A's are using him as their No. 2 hitter. He had 71 this year but has had 100-plus eight times in his 14-year career.

"He's got a very good eye,'' Shields said. "Very disciplined. He's a tough out.''

This is the moment, the game, that Dunn has waited for throughout his career, which is in its late stages. He's talked about retiring after the season but seems likely to listen to job offers before making a decision.

On the way to Kansas City from Texas on Sunday night, Dunn got a call from his old friend Jake Peavy, who earned a World Series ring with the Red Sox last October.

They talked about how much fun it would be to face each other in a Bay Area World Series, now that Peavy is with the Giants. But Peavy's message was to enjoy the ride, how ever long it lasts.

"Obviously he's happy for me,'' Dunn said. "I'm not dumb. I know what's on the line. I'm going to have fun and enjoy it. I'm not going to put so much pressure on [myself] that it's not enjoyable. That's not how I do things.''

Word of advice if he gets another chance to do a beer slide on Tuesday night: Don't get in his way.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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October Confidential: Royals

Rival players offer inside look at facing the AL Wild Card winners

October Confidential: Royals

How do you beat the Royals? MLB.com asked rival players from around Major League baseball to offer an inside look at how best to face the AL Wild Card winners.

James Shields
"His best pitch is his changeup. He'll throw that at any time in any count. You know he's going to battle. He's not going to give in or groove one over the plate to you. You have to worry about his cutter, his curveball and his changeup, basically. You just have to get him over the plate and get the ball. If you get that curveball or changeup down, you're going to have a tough time."
-- AL Central infielder

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Jason Vargas
"He's another guy who is not going to give in. He has a good changeup. He'll kind of lull you to sleep nibbling. And then he'll throw you a cutter in to get you off the changeup. For me, I pick a side of the plate. If he has his cutter working, you just have to stay out over the plate and get the changeup up."
-- AL Central infielder

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

Danny Duffy
"He has a great fastball and a great curveball. Another guy with a changeup. I think they like those over there. He's a guy you have to make throw strikes. He likes the fastball up and then will backdoor the curveball. So you have to get a fastball over the plate and be aggressive with that. His other stuff is pretty good."
-- AL Central infielder

Greg Holland
"A lot of guys don't pick up his slider but I see it pretty well. You just have to lay off the slider. If he beats you with it and throws three strikes with it, you just tip your cap. So you try to get a heater. If he throws one over, you gotta on that. Because you're not going to make a living hitting his slider or his splitter."
-- AL Central infielder

October Confidential
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Angels | A's | Orioles | Royals | Tigers
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Kelvin Herrera
"You have to get him out over the plate and be aggressive with the fastball. Or a changeup up. He's a guy that throws hard but he has that changeup, too. So I just look for his fastball."
-- AL Central infielder

Wade Davis
"His main pitch is his cutter right now. He has a good curveball. He'll ride his four-seamer up. So you have to lay off that pitch. You have to look for that cutter early middle-in and you can hit that. But again, you have to make throw strikes."
-- AL Central infielder

Billy Butler
"He's a patient hitter. I stay in on him. He likes to hit the ball the other way and shoot the ball. He's a gap-to-gap guy. He's not going to beat you with homers, I don't think. He doesn't swing and miss much off me. I think the times I've gotten him I've either jammed him inside with a fastball or to flare a slider."
-- AL Central pitcher 2

Eric Hosmer
"He's beaten me when I've gone away. He has a long swing, but it's quick. So if you throw a slider, it's got to be down and in front of home plate. He can chase that. You can tie him up early and late inside. He's a guy who maybe you go fastball in and then go slider down in the dirt and hope he swings and it falls it off. And then maybe elevate a fastball up and in."
-- AL Central pitcher 2

Alex Gordon
"If you can get him looking for a breaking ball, you can get a fastball by him. I've done that a few times. He can hit a hanging breaking ball well, and he did off me this year. But he's a guy you can go in and then expand away late. Try to get him to look for a slider and then go with a fastball. If you can get him looking for something, you can get him with another one. And I think people know that."
-- AL Central pitcher 2

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A's game plan is to slow down speedy Royals

A's game plan is to slow down speedy Royals

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

KANSAS CITY -- Though the A's don't anticipate ace Jon Lester to board many baserunners in Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game, they're in planning mode to attack the Royals' running game when he does.

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It haunted Oakland in its regular-season series, when the Royals were 6-for-6 in stolen base attempts in seven games, including five losses. Overall, Kansas City led the Majors with 153 swipes.

"They got a good running team, obviously, and we just have to prevent them from getting to first base first of all," catcher Geovany Soto said. "You try to combat it as best you can. You know they're still going to run, you know they're going to be aggressive. Just prepare for that, and hopefully we can contain them a little bit."

Soto wasn't yet in an A's uniform when they last played the Royals, but he has showcased an excellent arm since joining the club in late August, throwing out eight of his 16 runners, and it could land him a starting bid with Lester on Tuesday.

Opponents stole just six bases under Lester's watch this year.

"He's really good at holding runners on, monitoring his moves and getting the ball home quick," Soto said. "He knows what to do and how to do it. He's done it a long time."

A's manager Bob Melvin, though, has yet to decide between Soto and Derek Norris, whose 11.8 percent success rate during the regular season was the lowest in the Majors. It's also the lowest mark in Oakland history, previously held by Kurt Suzuki (13.2 percent, 2010).

"You have to factor everything in," Melvin said. "That is a strength of their team, and even more so with this type of roster where you don't have to keep as many pitchers, and you can keep some guys on the bench that can affect the game with their legs, so it's definitely something you have to think about."

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

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Melvin to stack up lefties vs. Shields

Melvin to stack up lefties vs. Shields

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

KANSAS CITY -- A's manager Bob Melvin made out 138 different lineups during the regular season, a reflection of this team's many moving pieces. But in determining which of those are best suited for Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game matchup against Royals right-hander James Shields, expect Melvin to turn to a familiar formula.

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The lineup figures to look a lot like the ones he used to close out the regular season in Texas, where Adam Dunn returned to the second spot for the first time since 2008. With leadoff man Coco Crisp able to get on base at a consistent clip for this team and distract the pitcher, Dunn has a good chance of getting a decent pitch to hit or draw a walk.

But Josh Reddick is also a likeable option here, since it would get Oakland's hottest hitter to the plate more. The right fielder hit .308 with eight home runs and 32 RBIs in 59 games following his return from the disabled list, after previously struggling to the tune of a .214 average. He's also a career .318 hitter in 22 at-bats vs. Shields.

Reddick has mostly hit down in the order, though, and would be an easy fit behind Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss.

One looming, and rather intriguing, question remains. Who will catch Lester? He's only ever thrown to Derek Norris in games, but Norris' arm is also a liability against a speedy Royals club -- he threw out just six of 68 runners in the regular season -- and Geovany Soto has been getting more starts of late, mostly for this very reason.

Probable lineup

Coco Crisp, CF
Adam Dunn, DH
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Brandon Moss, LF
Josh Reddick, RF
Jed Lowrie, SS
Stephen Vogt, 1B
Geovany Soto, C
Eric Sogard, 2B
Jon Lester, P

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

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Five reasons A's can win the World Series

Five reasons A's can win the World Series

KANSAS CITY -- The A's are surely not the favorites to win any postseason series, let alone the final one, after they trudged to the finish line with 20 losses in their final 30 games. That's not to say they can't get there, though.

"I've been saying it for months," said Josh Reddick. "Two division titles, out Game 5, get in with the Wild Card, win the whole thing."

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The A's haven't won a playoff series since 2006, getting bounced in the first round by Justin Verlander and Tigers in Game 5 of the American League Division Series in each of the last two years. This time around, they must start the process even sooner, in the AL Wild Card Game at Kansas City, only escalating the challenge of advancing not only past the first round but into the next and onto the World Series.

But there's good reason to believe these A's can make it there -- and win. Here are five reasons:

Starting rotation built for October
The A's success has typically run parallel to the depth of their starting staff, though this hasn't quite translated into the postseason, where they've too often been overmatched by their opponents' arms. But this rotation is equipped with something they haven't had in their previous two postseason losses to Verlander: their own bona fide ace. Jon Lester is just that, and he not only boasts a long postseason resume, but a dominant one.

Still missing Yoenis Cespedes? Consider this: Lester has a 2.11 ERA in 13 career playoff appearances, 11 of them starts -- and three of them World Series starts, all of which produced wins.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

This is the exact reason why the A's parted with their Cuban slugger. Cespedes is no doubt a threat in any lineup, but he can't carry it on his own. Lester, though, can carry an entire team, and the guys behind him in the rotation aren't half bad, either. Jeff Samardzija, though lacking postseason experience, is perhaps the fiercest competitor on the A's staff. Sonny Gray, too, lacks similar qualities, and already has two playoff starts at the tender age of 24. Finally, don't discount Scott Kazmir, despite some second-half stumbles. The lefty was an All-Star and finished the regular season on a high note with seven strong innings in Texas. Jason Hammel, excellent of late, could also factor into this mix.

Together, they're a World Series-caliber bunch.

Don't forget about the bullpen
Oakland's pitching depth seeps into its enviable bullpen, too. Led by closer Sean Doolittle, he of a remarkable 89-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio, along with setup man Luke Gregerson and the incomparable Swiss army knife that is right-hander Dan Otero, the A's relief corps is among the best in baseball -- a vital piece of any World Series team.

In nine of the last 19 World Series, the winning team received fewer than six innings per game from its starters. The A's employ several starters destined to go even deeper than this, but they're in good hands if not. Doolittle has quickly turned into a shutdown force, while Gregerson has been equally effective in the eighth. Otero, Ryan Cook, Eric O'Flaherty and Fernando Abad are interchangeable in the sixth and seventh, rounding out a balanced attack.

Platoon advantage
When at its best, the A's platoon operation is a dangerous force, allowing the club to play to matchups every inning of every game. It's only as effective as its commander, though, and no one in the game maneuvers his men better than manager Bob Melvin, who has embraced platoons and versatility in each of the A's last three winning seasons.

Now, Oakland's offense wasn't exactly powerful down the stretch, exploiting the club's platoon system and its potential holes more so than it ever has been before. But the A's have proven that when they are firing on all cylinders offensively, they're as deep a lineup as any in the league.

Dunn's not Dunn
Adam Dunn has zero postseason experience in 14 Major League seasons but absolutely 100-percent motivation to take full advantage of his first attempt to get into the Fall Classic and win it all. This may be the veteran's final season, before he's expected to announce his retirement, and what better way to end it than with a ring?

Dunn is hungry for it, perhaps more than anyone, and so are several other A's first-timers in the playoffs -- including Gregerson and Samardzija. These are the intangibles that often define a World Series club.

Strength by adversity
In recent months, the A's often appeared as if they were headed toward a major collapse, going from a team with the Majors' best record for the better part of four months to one stuck in a complete nosedive. They held an 11-game division lead and ultimately needed Game 162 to clinch just a Wild Card spot. But they may be better for it.

The A's have proven resilient numerous times in recent years, rising to the occasion in the face of adversity, and there's real reason to think they can use this trait to their advantage in the World Series, showing doubters that, yes, they really did belong there all along.

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

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A's opt for flexible 'pen, bench on Wild Card roster

A's opt for flexible 'pen, bench on Wild Card roster

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

KANSAS CITY -- Outside of Jon Lester, the A's are expected to carry just one other starter on their 25-man roster for Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game against the Royals, ensuring plenty of flexibility in their bullpen and on the bench.

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A's manager Bob Melvin said he is likely to name a total of eight or nine pitchers to his roster, which will be officially announced on Tuesday morning, and most are obvious selections. Lester, of course, is one, and right-hander Jason Hammel, because he has more rest than any other starter not named Lester, probably gets in based on his availability to give the club several innings if needed.

Elsewhere in the bullpen, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Dan Otero, Ryan Cook, Eric O'Flaherty and Fernando Abad will probably be joined by one or both of right-hander Jesse Chavez and lefty Drew Pomeranz, as each can fill a long-relief role.

On the field, Melvin is expected to start his usual left handed-heavy lineup consisting of Coco Crisp, Adam Dunn, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt, Geovany Soto and Eric Sogard, leaving plenty of right-handed bats available on the bench.

The players to look for there are catcher Derek Norris, infielders Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto and Nate Freiman, and outfielders Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld. Should the A's go with just eight pitchers, rather than nine, they'd likely be inclined to carry some speedy legs, paving the way for a potential Billy Burns appearance.

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

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Let's break down the A's-Royals Wild Card Game

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Let's break down the A's-Royals Wild Card Game

Comparing postseason teams based on WAR and UZR is fun, but so is comparing them based on their celebrity fans. Let's take a look at the AL Wild Card Game: Oakland Athletics vs. Kansas City Royals

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Voting underway to decide Hank Aaron Awards

Help decide this season's top offensive performer in each league

Voting underway to decide Hank Aaron Awards

Voting is underway through Sunday exclusively at MLB.com to help decide the 16th annual winners of the Hank Aaron Award, given by "The Hammer" himself during the upcoming 110th World Series to the outstanding offensive performer in each league.

American League nominees include Nelson Cruz of Baltimore, David Ortiz of Boston, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, Michael Brantley of Cleveland, Victor Martinez of Detroit, Jose Altuve of Houston, Alex Gordon of Kansas City, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, Trevor Plouffe of Minnesota, Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees, Josh Donaldson of Oakland, Robinson Cano of Seattle, Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay, Adrian Beltre of Texas and Jose Bautista of Toronto.

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National League candidates include Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona, Justin Upton of Atlanta, Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Devin Mesoraco of Cincinnati, Justin Morneau of Colorado, Adrian Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Giancarlo Stanton of Miami, Jonathan Lucroy of Milwaukee, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh, Matt Carpenter of St. Louis, Seth Smith of San Diego, Hunter Pence of San Francisco and Anthony Rendon of Washington.

Goldschmidt is going after his second straight Hank Aaron Award, having been the NL choice last year for the first time. Miguel Cabrera was the AL recipient each of the past two years, but V-Mart's nomination by Detroit means an end to that streak.

"As one of the game's most talented and respected players ever, it is appropriate that Major League Baseball recognizes the top offensive performers in each league with an award named in honor of Hank Aaron," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Each of the nominees should be applauded for their outstanding seasons, which will make selecting just one winner in each league a difficult task for Hank, our Hall of Fame panel and our participating fans."

"I am honored to have my name on the award given by Major League Baseball to the top offensive performers in the game," Aaron said. "Each of the nominees is talented and deserving, which makes me grateful to have the assistance of my fellow Hall of Famers and the fans to help select the winners."

For the fifth consecutive year, a special panel of Hall of Fame players led by Aaron will join fans in voting for the award, which is officially sanctioned by MLB and has recognized the top offensive threat in each league since it was established in 1999.

The panel includes some of the greatest offensive players of all-time -- Roberto Alomar, Johnny Bench, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Frank Thomas and Robin Yount. These Hall of Famers -- who combined for 16,956 hits, 8,844 RBIs and 2,109 home runs -- have been personally selected by Aaron to lend their expertise to select the best offensive performer in each league.

Do you go with a masher, like Stanton or Cruz? Or do you recognize a guy like Altuve, who led the Majors in batting average and led the AL in stolen bases? Home run kings often fare well in this process, but Chris Davis (53 homers) was trumped last year by Cabrera. And what about Trout, often referred to as the game's best player?

Past winners of the Hank Aaron Award include Cabrera and Goldschmidt (2013); Cabrera and Buster Posey (2012); Bautista and Matt Kemp (2011); Bautista and Joey Votto (2010); Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols (2009); Aramis Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis (2008); Rodriguez and Prince Fielder (2007); Jeter and Ryan Howard (2006); Ortiz and Andruw Jones (2005); Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds (2004); Alex Rodriguez and Pujols (2003); Rodriguez and Bonds (2001-02); Carlos Delgado and Todd Helton (2000) and Manny Ramirez and Sammy Sosa (1999).

The award was introduced in 1999 to honor the 25th anniversary of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. At that time, it was the first major award introduced by MLB in more than 25 years.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Lester born for big games, ready for Royals

Lester born for big games, ready for Royals

ARLINGTON -- It was no accident when the A's plotted their rotation for the final two weeks of regular-season play that Jon Lester lined up for a potential start in a one-game playoff.

Now that it's official, with Oakland traveling to Kansas City for Tuesday's American League Wild Card Game at Kauffman Stadium on TBS, the A's have bottled up all of their confidence and handed it to their ace, who will be opposed by right-hander James Shields in a 5 p.m. PT matchup.

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"We had Jon targeted for this," said manager Bob Melvin. "That's why you have a guy like that. When he takes the mound, the team's going to feel awfully good about their chances."

"We've got a great opponent against us," said Lester, "and we're going to give it our best shot."

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

Acquired by the A's at the Trade Deadline to not only get them to the postseason but help them navigate through it, Lester is essentially the reason this team seemingly holds the edge in this matchup: He's 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 career starts vs. the Royals, including 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three outings against them this season, two with the Red Sox and one with the A's. He also no-hit the Royals in 2008.

Yet Lester's outing was the only game the A's won in a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium from Aug. 11-14. Kansas City also took a three-game series in Oakland in early August, showcasing its relentless running game that could potentially haunt an A's catching staff that has collectively struggled to slow down the game's speedsters.

Opponents were successful in 100 out of 128 stolen-base attempts against Oakland during the regular season, though newbie Geovany Soto threw out eight of his 16 runners, which is why the A's will likely go with him over Derek Norris, who caught just eight of 68 attempted runners.

On the other side of the battery, both clubs not only possess feared starters but intimidating bullpens, which should turn this matchup into a well-balanced affair.

"I think it's a similar matchup," said shortstop Jed Lowrie. "They have a really strong bullpen, I think we do, too, and it's going to be two frontline starters pitching for one big game. It should be a good game."

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

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Gray, Reddick share AL's Player of the Week Award

Gray, Reddick share AL's Player of the Week Award

Two players instrumental in driving the A's to the playoffs for the third straight season were recognized Monday as the American League co-Players of the Week.

Starting pitcher Sonny Gray and right fielder Josh Reddick shared the final honor of the season, joining teammates Jon Lester and Brandon Moss as recipients from Oakland this season.

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Gray went 1-1 with a 0.56 ERA, one shutout and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings last week, pitching a gem on Sunday to help the A's beat Texas 4-0 and earn a Wild Card berth. He tied for the Major League lead in innings and was third in strikeouts during the week. It was his first career weekly honor.

Reddick led the Majors with a .480 (12-for-25) average to go along with two doubles, one triple, one homer, seven RBIs and four runs scored. He was tied for the Major League lead in hits and total bases (19). It was his second career honor.

Reddick went 3-for-4 with a double on Tuesday as Gray tossed seven innings of three-hit ball with a career-best 12 strikeouts. Gray then threw the shutout in Sunday's must-win game against the Rangers, striking out six and walking none. Reddick, meanwhile, went 2-for-4.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Emotional Dunn ready for first taste of postseason

Emotional Dunn ready for first taste of postseason

ARLINGTON -- Relief swept over the visitors' clubhouse at Globe Life Park on Sunday afternoon following the A's playoff-clenching victory over the Rangers, and it was none more apparent than on the face of Adam Dunn, who is in the postseason for the first time in his 14-year career.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS
Dunn had just finished his 2,001st career game. He smiled. He cried. Then he slid head-first into a puddle of beer, his month-old teammates showering him with cheers of "Dunn! Dunn! Dunn! Dunn!" -- and, of course, more beer.

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"That's special for everybody," said manager Bob Melvin. "That was one of the first guys I was seeking out to give him a hug. He's not drinking Dom Perignon in there, but it certainly tastes like it for him."

"To be honest with you, it's what you work for your whole career and I don't know how fair it is that I get there with the fruits of their labor, but beggars can't be choosers," said Dunn, who joined the A's on Sept. 1. "I'm happy."

To his delight, Dunn will no longer hold the distinction of being the active player with the most career games without a postseason appearance. That now belongs to Texas' Alex Rios, who has played in 1,586 games without making it into the October spotlight.

"For him to be part of the postseason, I'm really happy for him to experience this," said Jon Lester, who will get the start in the Wild Card Game at 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday, "and hopefully there are a few more of these along the way."

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

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A's-Royals Wild Card Game: Did you know?

A's-Royals Wild Card Game: Did you know?

The Royals and A's will square off tonight at Kauffman Stadium in a one-game, win-or-go-home American League Wild Card Game.

Here's what you ought to know about the matchup.

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• Left-hander Jon Lester, who will start for Oakland, is 9-3 with a 1.84 ERA in 13 career starts against the Royals. This year, he is 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three starts against them.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

• The Royals fell victim to Lester's only no-hitter on May 19, 2008, as a member of the Red Sox. Lester tossed a career-high 130 pitches in that game.

• Lester boasts a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances (11 starts). Last year, he went 4-1 in the playoffs to claim his second World Series title with the Red Sox.

• Several current Royals have had success against Lester. Jayson Nix is 8-for-26 with three home runs off him, while Eric Hosmer and Raul Ibanez have also taken him deep. Salvador Perez is 3-for-6; Nori Aoki is 4-for-9; Alcides Escobar is 6-for-17; and Lorenzo Cain is 5-for-16.

• Righty James Shields will take the mound for the Royals. He is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts against the A's this season, and for his career he is 6-4 with a 3.82 ERA in 15 starts vs. Oakland.

• The last time Shields pitched in the postseason was 2011, when he allowed seven runs in five innings in a Game 2 ALDS loss to Texas as a member of the Rays. His career playoff ERA in six starts is 4.98.

• Shields will be pitching on standard four days' rest. Lester will be pitching on five days' rest; his career ERA on five days' rest is 3.36.

• Kansas City took the 2014 regular-season series from Oakland, 5-2, to claim home-field advantage on Tuesday. All seven games came in August: the Royals took two of three in Oakland from Aug. 1-3 before winning three of four at Kauffman Stadium from Aug. 11-14. Lester earned both of the A's victories.

• Starting with their four-game set in Kansas City, the A's dropped eight of their final 14 series -- and 30 of their last 46 games -- to finish the regular season. Prior, they had dropped just 10 of 37 series. Oakland's post-All-Star break winning percentage of .433 is the lowest in MLB history for a team that reached the postseason.

• The A's and Royals have met once in the playoffs -- in the 1981 AL Division Series, which Oakland swept, 3-0. The regular season had been shortened to 109 games due to a players' strike, and it was split into two halves, with the winners of each half squaring off in MLB's first-ever divisional playoff. Oakland posted the AL West's best record in the first half, and Kansas City had the West's best record in the second half. The A's went on to get swept by the Yankees in the ALCS.

• The Athletics called Kansas City home from 1955-67 before moving to Oakland in '68. During those years, they played at Municipal Stadium, where the Royals also played from their inception in 1969 until '72. The Kansas City Athletics never reached the postseason and did not record a single winning season.

• The A's lead the all-time series against the Royals, 307-254.

• Postseason baseball was last played in Kansas City on Oct. 27, 1985, when the Royals defeated the Cardinals in Game 7 of the World Series. This is Kansas City's first playoff appearance since '85, while it's Oakland's third consecutive postseason trip -- and eighth in the last 15 years.

• Tuesday will mark the first postseason contest for A's slugger Adam Dunn, who has played in 2,001 career games -- all during the regular season.

• A's starting pitchers did not walk a batter in the team's last five regular-season games, which is the longest such streak in Oakland history.

• Thanks to their lights-out bullpen, the Royals went 72-1 in the regular season when leading after seven innings and 79-1 when leading after eight. The A's, meanwhile, led the Majors with 13 wins when trailing after seven and eight wins when trailing after eight.

• Kansas City topped MLB in stolen bases (153) for a second straight year. Oakland catchers, on the other hand, threw out just 22 percent of attempted base stealers. For All-Star Derek Norris, that number was 17 percent, which is why the A's are likely to give the start to Geovany Soto, who has gunned down 8-of-17 runners since joining the A's and 10-of-23 on the year.

• The Royals are 42-39 at Kauffman Stadium in 2014.

Aaron Leibowitz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gray's shutout puts A's in AL Wild Card Game

Six-hitter in Texas sends Oakland to third straight postseason

Gray's shutout puts A's in AL Wild Card Game

ARLINGTON -- A's manager Bob Melvin stood in the middle of a champagne-soaked clubhouse, his battle-tested men huddled around their tired, trusted leader. He raised a toast, the final game of the regular season a mere minutes behind them all, and offered a succinct but profound message that ended in two words: "We're in."

Yes, the A's are back in the postseason, despite an unexpectedly arduous and overly dramatic journey to get there -- "We've been through hell and back," said Sean Doolittle -- and, in celebrating an American League Wild Card berth following Sonny Gray's 4-0 shutout of the Rangers on Sunday afternoon at Globe Life Park, experienced an equally liberating emotional release, too.

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"We went through some real challenges this year, but those things can make you tougher, too," Melvin said. "It's a relief off everyone's shoulders that we're here now, took the journey that we did. We're in, and I know I'm going to sleep better tonight."

"There have been a lot of ups and downs this year," added Jed Lowrie, "but we punched our ticket, and that's all that matters."

Gray's complete-game gem, just the second of his career, allowed the A's to cancel all pending reservations in Seattle, nullifying a potential Game 163 on Monday. Instead, they will head straight to Kansas City in advance of Tuesday's 5 p.m. PT contest, led by their ace, Jon Lester.

It will be the A's third consecutive postseason appearance -- the previous two ending in Game 5 losses to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the AL Division Series -- and 26th in franchise history. Only the Yankees (51), Dodgers (28) and Cardinals (27) have more.

"I've been saying the last two weeks, if we get in, the last two months would be forgotten. And now I can say that with confidence," said Josh Reddick. "All the naysayers and the negative vibes, they're all gone now. We got in. I've been saying it for months -- two division titles, out Game 5, get in with the Wild Card, Win the whole thing."

"Now the pressure is off," said Gray, "and we can just go play."

Gray was superb on a day when he absolutely needed to be, allowing the Rangers just six hits without walking a batter and ringing up five strikeouts to remain efficient throughout, needing just 103 pitches to join Dave Stewart as the only pitchers in Oakland history to toss a complete game to clinch a playoff appearance.

It was the exclamation point to an utterly emotional season.

Oakland exited the All-Star break with baseball's best record (59-36) but a Yoenis Cespedes-less lineup stumbled for much of the second half, allowing the Angels to run away with the AL West crown in a matter of weeks. The A's, meanwhile, trudged to the finish line, and their post-break .433 winning percentage is lowest in MLB history by a playoff team.

"Once we could get that monkey off our back, we feel like we have a team that could do something special, and I think we're going to enjoy the heck out of this right now, after everything that this team has been through," said Doolittle. "This could be something that helps us move forward."

Doolittle warmed up twice Sunday afternoon, "and there was no way I was going in that game," he said, smiling. "Sonny was in a different kind of place today. Just an unbelievable outing for him."

"That was huge, one of the most impressive games I've gotten to watch in a while," said Lester, who was acquired in the deal that sent Cespedes to Boston. "Now it's my job to go out there and not screw it up and pitch the best game I can and give these guys a chance to win."

Gray's only other complete game also came against the Rangers, a three-hit shutout back in April, but against a healthier Texas lineup and under much different circumstances. He's already shown in little time, though, his love for a good challenge, evidenced by two gritty starts against the Tigers in last year's ALDS.

"It's pretty amazing," said Melvin. "For a 24-year-old kid who looks like he's 14 and pitches like he's 30, we've asked so much of him over the last couple of years, and for him to step up today, he kind of gave me an inkling that he might be the only guy we needed."

He surely shined on this day, particularly in the fifth inning when the Rangers threatened with runners at the corners and none out. Gray proceeded to strike out Luis Sardinas and force an inning-ending double play from former teammate Adam Rosales to escape his only jam.

He got all support he needed in the second inning when Reddick notched an RBI triple and Stephen Vogt rung up a run-scoring single. Lowrie's two-run base hit in the ninth padded a lead Gray wasn't about to hand over.

"Today was time to go out and win a game. It didn't matter how," said Gray. "It's my mom's birthday and she told me before the game, 'Son, there's only one thing that's going to make this a happy birthday.' And I'm sure she's having a great birthday now."

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

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MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Constructing a winner: Athletics

How Oakland used the Draft, trades, free agency and international signings to build its playoff team

Constructing a winner: Athletics

The Athletics are the epitome of the small-revenue franchise. Saddled with one of the worst stadium situations in baseball, they have to do more with less -- and they have.

Oakland won the American League West with MLB's second-lowest payroll ($73.1 million) in 2012, and repeated as division champions with the fourth-lowest payroll ($71.1 million) last year. The A's are making their third straight postseason appearance in 2014, a distinction matched only by the Cardinals and Tigers, despite an Opening Day payroll ($83.4 million) that ranked 25th.

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So the logical assumption would be that Oakland has kept cost down by building from within -- except that hasn't been the case at all. The A's have the least homegrown flavor of any of the 10 playoff clubs, with only two players that they originally signed and developed.

Instead, they've built their success on trades and an unwillingness to stand pat. Just seven members of their 2014 playoff roster were on their 2012 postseason roster, and 11 of this year's players were acquired since the end of last season.

"It keeps things interesting here," Oakland assistant general manager David Forst said. "Certainly over our last three seasons, we've been very active. It's intellectually stimulating, trying to tweak and move things around. It's nice to have a partner in the manager's office who appreciates and enjoys the process and wants to work with us. It keeps things fresh. We're not sitting back, we're looking for an edge as to how to get better."

HOMEGROWN
Player, how acquired, year:
Sean Doolittle, 2007 (1st round supplemental)
Sonny Gray, 2011 (1st round)

Both of the homegrown A's were early First-Year Player Draft picks. A two-way player at Virginia, Sean Doolittle went in 2007's supplemental first round (41st overall) as a first baseman. He reached Triple-A before knee injuries cost him most of 2009 and all of 2010, then reinvented himself as a pitcher and has become the club's closer.

Sonny Gray took a more direct path, going from Vanderbilt and the first round (18th overall) of the 2011 Draft to Oakland's rotation in August 2013. Undaunted by his rapid ascension, he has led the A's with 18 wins since his arrival and hooked up with Justin Verlander for two memorable Division Series battles last October.

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

While Doolittle and Gray are the only homegrown players on the playoff roster, the A's have had more success signing and developing talent than that would indicate. They've just used several of those other in-house products in trades, including All-Stars Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Yoenis Cespedes and first-round picks Grant Green, Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.

"The standard line is that you build throught the draft, so we probably couldn't have foreseen that the Major League team would look like this," Forst said. "The only reason it does is because we had homegrown players to exchange for these guys. It wouldn't be accurate to say we had to go out and get players because we weren't producing any ourselves."

TRADES/WAIVERS
Player, year, acquired from:
Josh Donaldson, 2008, Cubs
Eric Sogard, 2010, Padres
Ryan Cook, 2011, Diamondbacks
Derek Norris, 2011, Nationals
Josh Reddick, 2011, Red Sox
Jed Lowrie, 2013, Astros
Nate Freiman, 2013, Astros*
Dan Otero, 2013, Yankees*
Stephen Vogt, 2013, Rays
Alberto Callaspo, 2013, Angels
Fernando Abad, 2013, Nationals
Luke Gregerson, 2013, Padres
Jason Hammel, 2014, Cubs
Jeff Samardzija, 2014, Cubs
Jonny Gomes, 2014, Red Sox
Jon Lester, 2014, Red Sox
Sam Fuld, 2014, Twins
Geovany Soto, 2014, Rangers
Adam Dunn, 2014, White Sox
*Acquired via Waivers

The A's constructed their Moneyball teams on a homegrown foundation (Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito) but had trouble building from within afterward. They went from 2007-11 without a single winning year, so they decided to try something different after the 2011 season. In three separate December trades, they parted with their last three All-Star Game representatives and remade their team.

Cahill went to the Diamondbacks in a deal for Jarrod Parker, a mainstay in the 2012 and 2013 playoff rotations before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in March, and Ryan Cook. Bailey helped land Josh Reddick and minor leaguer Raul Alcantara, who became Oakland's top pitching prospect before he had his elbow reconstructed in May. Gonzalez brought back four players from the Nationals: All-Star catcher Derek Norris and three guys later spun off in subsequent deals in A.J. Cole (to the Mariners for John Jaso), Tom Milone (to the Twins for Sam Fuld) and Brad Peacock (to the Astros for Jed Lowrie).

"At the point of those trades, we sort of had nothing to lose," Forst said. "We'd had four or five disappointing seasons in a row and it got to the point where we had to try something different. Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey and Gio Gonzalez were very good A's, but they had value and we had to use it to get assets."

Oakland has continued to wheel and deal even after it started winning again. Though the A's had the best record in baseball in July, they made not one but two blockbuster deals to strengthen their rotation. They shipped Russell (one of the game's top prospects), McKinney, Dan Straily and a player to be named to the Cubs for Samardzija and Jason Hammel, then got Lester and Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox for Cespedes and a supplemental second-round choice int the 2015 Draft.

"We've traded some good young players for those who fit at the major league level right now," Forst said. "We traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester to take advantage of the opportunity we had at the big league level. Those opportunities are precious."

Oakland's best recent trade took more than four years to pay off but was worth the wait. Josh Donaldson was considered the fourth-best player the A's acquired (along with Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton and Eric Patterson) from the Cubs for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin in July 2008. Donaldson couldn't crack Oakland's lineup until August 2012 but emerged as a strong MVP candidate in both 2013 and 2014.

FREE AGENTS
Player, year:
Coco Crisp, 2009
Brandon Moss, 2011
Scott Kazmir, 2013
Eric O'Flaherty, 2014

Though the A's can't afford to sign top-tier free agents, they've gotten a lot of bang for their buck. Coco Crisp originally signed a two-year, $10.5 million contract in December 2009, re-upped for three years and $20.5 million in January 2012 and agreed to a two-year, $22 million extension with a vesting option for 2017 this February.

Brandon Moss was the biggest bargain off all, signing a minor league contract in November 2011 before blooming in the second half of 2012 like Donaldson did. Scott Kazmir ($22 million) and Eric O'Flaherty ($7 million) have bolstered the pitching staff after signing modest two-year deals last offseason.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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A's have rich postseason history from Philadelphia to Oakland

A's have rich postseason history from Philadelphia to Oakland

Oakland's postseason history dates to 1971, just three years after the A's transferred their franchise from Kansas City, where they spent 13 seasons. Before that, they were in Philadelphia, where they racked up five World Series titles since their inception in 1901 (1910- '11, '13, '29-'30). The A's lost the American League Championship Series to the Orioles in their inaugural Oakland season, but it also marked the beginning of a great dynasty.

The A's won five consecutive Western Division titles in 1971-75 and three straight World Series championships in 1972-74 under flamboyant owner Charlie Finley with a cast of mustached characters donning flashy green and gold uniforms. In doing so, they became the first team not named the Yankees to win three consecutive World Series. To this day, no other club has accomplished such a feat.

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The A's were rendered a shell of their former greatness by the time Finley left at the conclusion of the 1979 season, but with new owner Walter Haas at the helm, a new powerhouse was formed in the late '80s as rookies-turned-Bash Brothers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire emerged. Oakland made three consecutive World Series appearances beginning in 1988 but claimed just one title -- in 1989, against the Giants -- along the way.

The next decade didn't treat the A's so well, but they've made the playoffs eight times since the start of 2000, advancing past the AL Division Series just once in their seven previous attempts -- a trend they'll look to buck yet again.

Last time made playoffs: The 2013 season ended in more heartbreak for the A's, who made yet another early postseason departure by virtue of a second consecutive Game 5 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in the American League Division Series.

Last time won playoff series: That would be 2006, when the A's swept the Twins, 3-0, in the ALDS only to drop out after four consecutive ALCS losses to Detroit.

Last time won pennant: It's been 24 years since the A's bounced the Red Sox from the ALCS with a four-game sweep to claim the AL pennant and advance to their third consecutive World Series, which ended in a loss to the Reds.

Last time won World Series: The A's throttled the Giants in the 1989 Battle of the Bay World Series, sweeping them in four games, but not before a magnitude 6.5 earthquake suspended play prior to the start of Game 3. The series would be delayed for 10 days before the A's finished off their rivals, though it will always be remembered for the devastating earthquake, which killed 63.

Overall Division Series record: 1-6 in series; 15-18 in games, .455 winning percentage.
Overall LCS record: 6-5 in series; 23-22 in games, .511 winning percentage.
Overall franchise World Series record: 9-5 in series; 41-34 in games, .547 winning percentage.
Overall franchise postseason record: 16-16 in series, 79-74 in games, .516 winning percentage.

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

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Five reasons why A's made the postseason

Fast start, ability to overcome injuries helped put Oakland in Wild Card Game

Five reasons why A's made the postseason

This was a tale of two seasons. The A's fired on all cylinders in a tremendous first half, taking baseball's best record into the break and sending seven players to the All-Star Game, having appeared to punch an advance ticket to the World Series. Then came the slump of all slumps. The A's played sub-.500 ball in their final two months, lost the division title to the Angels and essentially limped their way into their third consecutive postseason appearance by way of the American League Wild Card Game.

There's been persistence in the middle of trials and tribulations, though, and the A's found a way to get it done at the end, in large part because of these five reasons:

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Pitching depth: Spring injuries to starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin could've easily set the A's back, but they thrived without them thanks to their always-coveted depth, which in this case included Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone and Drew Pomeranz. Chavez, moved from the bullpen to help solidify the rotation, gave them more than they could've ever hoped for in the first half, providing seven wins and a 3.14 ERA in 19 starts. The right-hander made two more starts after the break before transferring back to the bullpen. Oakland has gotten 146 innings from Chavez, while Milone tallied 117 before his trade to the Twins. Pomeranz, too, has been invaluable, racking up five wins and a 2.35 ERA in 10 appearances, including 10 starts, in a dual role.

  Date Time Matchup Network
  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

The trades: General manager Billy Beane pulled off not one but two blockbusters before the annual Trade Deadline, first reeling in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs in exchange for hurler Dan Straily and top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, before wowing the entire baseball community with the acquisition of ace Jon Lester from the Red Sox -- at the expense of Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes. The latter trade has been met with much debate, particularly amid the A's second-half offensive blunders, but it's worth asking where they would be without Lester, who has given them six wins. Samardzija has been equally stellar in 16 starts, posting a 3.14 ERA, while Hammel, despite a rough beginning in green and gold, has consistently held his own every fifth day.

Josh Donaldson: Coming off a breakout 2013 campaign that resulted in a fourth-place finish in American League MVP voting, Donaldson's overall average took a hit this year, but his value to the A's did not. He not only provided his usual stellar defense but tallied more home runs and RBIs than he did last season, all while playing banged up for much of the season, as he battled hip, hamstring and knee injuries.

Change at closer: When the $10 million Jim Johnson experiment was a bust, the A's didn't have to look very far for a replacement closer, entrusting flamethrower Sean Doolittle with the ninth-inning duties. Doolittle, awarded a five-year deal in April that includes club options for 2019 and 2020, has been fantastic in his new role, earning his first career All-Star nod and racking up 22 saves with a crazy 89:8 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

First-half offensive outburst: For almost all of the first half, the A's topped the Majors in nearly every offensive category, posting an otherworldly run differential. That they plated so many runs and, as a result, won so many games in the first half lessened the impact of a dreadful offensive performance in the second half, allowing the A's to remain in contention despite such a remarkable collapse in the standings.

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

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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.

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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.

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

 "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.

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Position by position breakdown: A's-Royals

Position by position breakdown: A's-Royals

It's a matchup that was up in the air until late in the afternoon on the final day of the season, and it will be the first playoff action fans are treated to this October.

The American League Wild Card Game (Tuesday night at 8:07 ET on TBS) is here, ready to open the 2014 postseason.

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It'll be the first playoff action that Kansas City fans have seen in a generation, as the Royals secured their first playoff berth since 1985. They wrapped up that guarantee a few days before Oakland, which needed a win on Sunday afternoon against the Rangers to capture a bid.

And while it was a banner season for the Royals -- who finished the season a game back of the Tigers in the AL Central -- the A's couldn't prevent a disappointing fade through much of the regular season's second half. In control of the AL West with a six-game lead as late as June 21, Oakland fell to as many as 12 games behind the Angels at the end of September.

Still, the A's are postseason bound for the third straight year and looking to fare better against Kansas City than they did in the regular season. Over the course of seven meetings this year, the Royals won five games (though the A's outscored K.C. by two runs).

But this is the postseason, when anything can happen. Here's a look at how these teams stack up, position by position.

CATCHER
This matchup pits an All-Star in Salvador Perez against an Oakland latecomer in veteran Geovany Soto. Derek Norris has had a breakout year (.270 average, 55 RBIs, 10 homers) in his third full season and first behind the plate for more than 100 games, but Soto -- purchased on Aug. 24 from the Rangers -- has been getting a fair share of looks this month and is expected to play Tuesday. Perez experienced a slight dip in production since the All-Star break, but he still gets the nod as the better defensive catcher, with eight defensive runs saved to Soto's zero (and Norris' -3). Advantage: Royals

FIRST BASE
Kansas City's Eric Hosmer was hitting just .246 at the end of June when he went on a 24-for-56 stretch (.429) in 14 July games to turn things around. But when he was hit on the right hand by a pitch at Boston, it turned the Royals' lineup upside down. The Gold Glove Award winner is a difference-maker in the lineup and at first base -- much more so than Oakland's Stephen Vogt, who will get the platoon start against the right-hander James Shields. Vogt's splits against righties (.291 average vs. .205 against lefties) are favorable, but he's hit just 5-for-23 (.217) against Kansas City this year. Advantage: Royals

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  Sept. 30 8 p.m. ET OAK vs. KC TBS

SECOND BASE
Omar Infante came to Kansas City this year as a do-everything utility man after the Royals had seen a revolving door of players at second for years. He had been a tough out with Detroit -- especially in 2013, when he hit .375 against Kansas City -- and they'll certainly hope his 30 games of postseason experience come in handy. For Oakland, it'll be former Royals infielder Alberto Callaspo, who is 2-for-5 against Shields and 5-for-24 against the Royals this season. Advantage: Royals

THIRD BASE
After a breakout campaign in 2013, Josh Donaldson just about replicated all of his numbers (29 homers and 98 RBIs are up from his totals last year) except average (down from .301 to .255 this season). Still, he's the heart and soul of the Oakland lineup and the A's will need him to be far more productive than he was in last year's playoffs (3-for-21 with zero RBIs and eight strikeouts). Like many of his homegrown Royals teammates, Mike Moustakas has never seen the playoffs. And his numbers against the A's this year -- 2-for-22, including 0-for-5 against A's starter Jon Lester -- are bleak. Advantage: A's

SHORTSTOP
Possessing one of the best arms in the game at his position, Alcides Escobar has been sturdy at shortstop for the Royals since he was acquired from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal four years ago. He's also an extraordinarily efficient base stealer (he's stolen 88 bases and been thrown out just 11 times since 2012). Oakland counters with Jed Lowrie, whose offensive numbers are similar (with the exception of baserunning). Escobar is 2-for-7 this year against Lester and Lowrie is 1-for-3 against Shields. Lowrie's 17 games of postseason experience (.176 average with Boston and Oakland) give him an ever-so-slight edge. Advantage: A's

DESIGNATED HITTER
After looking as if 2014 would be the most disappointing season in recent memory for Billy Butler, the veteran slugger turned it on in September. He has a hit in eight of his last 10 games and multiple hits in five of them to bring his average for the year up to .271. But Oakland's Adam Dunn may have an extra bit of motivation as the veteran slugger gets his first crack at the playoffs after 14 years in the big leagues. Dunn is a career .200 hitter (with 16 strikeouts and one homer in 35 career at-bats) against Shields, while Butler is hitless against Lester in nine at-bats this year. Advantage: A's

LEFT FIELD
With an impressive all-around game, Alex Gordon has worked his way into the AL MVP conversation this year. According to FanGraphs, Gordon has saved 27 runs in left field while recording eight assists. He's hit .266 with 19 homers and 74 RBIs this year, with an impressive .336 average with runners in scoring position. And like Gordon, Oakland's Brandon Moss (likely to platoon in favor of Jonny Gomes against Shields) is an essential key in his team's lineup with all-around game at the plate (.234 average, 25 homers and 81 RBIs). But Gordon's defense gives him the slight edge in a matchup that could very well be a push. Advantage: Royals

CENTER FIELD
The kind of team speed the Royals have is an asset on the basepaths and in the field. That's the case for Kansas City center fielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, who excel at taking away hits from opponents and at getting under opponents' skin on the bases when they get on base. Between the two of them, the Royals led the AL in defensive runs saved in center (the A's were 12th, according to FanGraphs) and were first in the Majors in Ultimate Zone Rating (the A's were 20th). Cain stole 28 bases and Dyson swiped 36, while Oakland's Coco Crisp took just 19. Speed kills in the playoffs. Advantage: Royals

RIGHT FIELD
Josh Reddick is heating up at the right time for the A's, and they'll need production from him without Yoenis Cespedes, who fueled Oakland's offense in the playoffs last year. Over 19 September games, Reddick hit .313 with two homers and 13 RBIs. But the Royals have a hot right fielder of their own in Nori Aoki (.369 average with six doubles, two triples and 10 RBIs in 23 September games). Reddick's power and splits against Shields (4-for-6 with two homers this year) give him the slight edge. Advantage: A's

BENCH
With a team as defensively gifted as the Royals, there aren't likely to be many late-innings changes for defense, so their bench players are most useful on the basepaths. Cain or Dyson (whichever is the odd man out in center field) is dangerous on the basepaths and youngster Terrance Gore is one of the fastest players in the Majors. Beyond that, it's veteran Raul Ibanez (44 career playoff games) and Josh Willingham. Oakland receives more well-rounded production from Vogt, Sam Fuld, Soto and Eric Sogard. In a series, the advantage would go to Oakland. But in one game (in the AL, with no need for pinch-hitters), it's those pinch-runners who could mean everything. Advantage: Royals

ROTATION
For the purpose of this one game, it's a matchup between Shields and Lester. Shields has earned the nickname "Big Game James" for his performance in pressure situations such as Tuesday's game, while Lester is no stranger to the playoff spotlight after spending the first nine years of his career with the Red Sox (6-4 career postseason record and 2.11 ERA). He was unflappable during Boston's World Series run last year, going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA. All of Shields' postseason starts have also come with a different club -- the Rays -- but his 2-4 record and 4.98 ERA don't quite stack up against Lester's postseason resume. Advantage: A's

BULLPEN
When people think of strong bullpens around baseball, they immediately think of Kansas City and its ever-formidable late-innings staff. The eighth- and ninth-inning duo of Wade Davis (9-2 record, 1.00 ERA, 109 strikeouts in 72 innings) and Greg Holland (1.44 ERA, 46 saves in 48 opportunities, 90 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings) may be the best in baseball, and seventh-inning man Kelvin Herrera is no slouch himself. But Oakland, statistically, may have the best 'pen in the league. The A's bullpen was second in the league in ERA (2.59), first in walks allowed (122), second in opponents' batting average (.222), first in on-base percentage (.279) and OPS (.609) and total bases allowed (565). But considering neither team is likely to throw more than three or four relievers in this one game, the slight edge has to go to the team with the most elite relievers. Advantage: Royals

CLOSER
Bullpens are often measured by their closers, and these two teams each have excellent ones. Sean Doolittle (2.73 ERA, 22 saves in 26 opportunities, 61 appearances) has been dependable in Oakland, but he simply has not been as lights-out as the dominant Holland. The Royals closer's WAR (2.5) is nearly twice that of Doolittle (1.3) and his 46 saves lead all playoff closers. Advantage: Royals

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gray throws shutout to help A's clinch.

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Gray throws shutout to help A's clinch.

Heading into Game 162, the Athletics were still a win away from cementing a postseason berth. The A's have struggled a bit since the blockbuster deadline deal that sent back-to-back Home Run Derby champion and outfield assist extraordinaire to Boston for southpaw hurler Jon Lester.

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A's stick with Soto to combat running game

A's stick with Soto to combat running game

ARLINGTON -- In an effort to combat the Rangers' running game in a crucial Game 162, the A's stuck with Geovany Soto behind the plate Sunday, opting to keep Derek Norris on the bench -- a formula this club would likely emulate in potential postseason play.

"This is a very aggressive team on the bases, and he's done a really nice job of shutting them down," manager Bob Melvin said of Soto. "He's done a nice job throwing the ball, regardless, and he's swinging the bat here recently, too.

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"Couple that with Derek being available to come off the bench against a lefty, too, and all things combined, that was the decision. And Derek knows that. I talked to him about it this morning."

Soto has thrown out eight of 16 runners since joining the A's, including two on Saturday night. Norris has also thrown out eight, but in 68 attempts for an 11.8 percent success rate, the lowest in the Majors. It's also the lowest mark in Oakland history, previously held by Kurt Suzuki (13.2 percent, 2010).

Norris has also been struggling at the plate. He was batting .303 at the conclusion of play on Aug. 2 but is hitting just .221 in 45 games since. Soto's average since joining the A's on Aug. 24 (.231) isn't overwhelming, but he's already come through in key situations numerous times, collecting eight RBIs in 13 games.

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

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So long as Donaldson can walk, he'll be playing

So long as Donaldson can walk, he'll be playing

ARLINGTON -- A's third baseman Josh Donaldson has been playing through hip issues, hamstring problems and, more recently, a left knee injury. But he can still walk, and that's all manager Bob Melvin needs to hear to keep his All-Star in the lineup.

Donaldson, who reinjured the knee in Friday's win but remained in the game, was reassured by the Rangers' team doctor on Saturday that everything is structurally sound. So Donaldson was back in the lineup for Saturday's potential playoff-spot clincher, despite still being sore.

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Donaldson said of the knee, "It does feel better," and vowed to play as close to 100 percent as the knee allows, noting that he's hardly the fastest guy on the roster as is.

"As long as he can move around, and as you saw last night, probably wasn't running his normal pace, but he's able to play out there," said Melvin. "It's an inspiration to get a guy in the lineup who's that banged-up and to stay in the lineup like he did last night. I think we all felt good about that."

Melvin never hesitates when asked about Donaldson's place in the American League MVP discussion, as he was Saturday. The infielder finished fourth in voting last season and, though his average has slipped from .301 to .253 this year, his WAR rating, as calculated by Fangraphs, is 6.3, tying him with Jose Bautista for fifth in the AL. Mike Trout leads the pack at 8.1.

"What he means for our team is pretty significant, and that's what you go by," Melvin said. "Sometimes, if a guy's not hitting .300 or whatever, nowadays, average probably isn't the most important thing. It's production, it's defense, all of the above. He gives us exactly that. So I would say he's definitely in the equation."

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

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Late Rangers switch allows Dunn to reach milestone

Late Rangers switch allows Dunn to reach milestone

ARLINGTON -- A's designated hitter Adam Dunn played in his 2,000th career game Saturday evening at Globe Life Park, but he almost was a spectator.

Dunn only made it in the starting lineup less than an hour before game time, when the Rangers announced that scheduled starter Derek Holland had been scratched because of a migraine headache. Texas replaced Holland with right-hander Scott Baker, allowing the A's to get their power-hitting left-handers, including Dunn, in the game.

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Dunn entered the game with the distinction of being the active player with the most career games without a postseason appearance. The next closest is Texas' Alex Rios, who has played in 1,586 games without making it to the playoffs.

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

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Jonathan Mayo

Unveiling the 2014 All-Prospect Team

Sluggers Bryant and Gallo make the cut, as do pairs of Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox

Unveiling the 2014 All-Prospect Team

Last week, MLBPipeline.com handed out year-end awards for top hitting and pitching prospects. As much as Kris Bryant and Tyler Glasnow were deserving recipients, it was clear there were many other fantastic performances in 2014 that deserved some attention.

With that in mind, MLBPipeline.com announced its 2014 All-Prospect Team on Friday. There's a prospect for each position, including three outfielders, a DH, a right-handed and left-handed starting pitcher and one reliever. The only requirements were that a player appeared at some point on a team's Top 20 list on Prospect Watch and spent the majority of the year in the Minor Leagues.

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1B: Matt Olson, Oakland A's
Perhaps lost in the shadow of the power displays of Bryant and Joey Gallo, Olson finished third in all of the Minors with 37 home runs. The A's No. 2 prospect also walked 117 times to lead the Minor Leagues, allowing him to finish with a robust .404 OBP and .947 OPS.

2B: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Betts has more than held his own in the big leagues, playing center field and second base. He began the year as the No. 62 prospect on the Top 100, then moved up to No. 14 on the re-ranked list this summer. The jump was thanks to a huge season at Double and Triple-A. Betts hit .346/.431/.529 with 33 steals in 99 games before getting called up to Boston.

SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
The fact that Seager hit in the California League surprised no one. Neither did the fact he kept on raking when he reached Double-A. The Dodgers' top prospect hit a combined .349/.402/.602 to win the Minor League batting title, and his .602 slugging percentage was also good for fourth in the Minors. All coming from the shortstop position, while reaching the upper levels of the system at age 20.

3B: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
He was the Hitting Prospect of the Year, after all. The Cubs' top prospect led the Minors in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. He was second in OBP, third in RBIs, and he even stole 15 bases while reaching Triple-A in his first full season.

C: Blake Swihart, Red Sox
Ranked as the No. 2 catcher, Swihart began the year in Double-A and finished it with the International League champion Pawtucket Red Sox in Triple-A. Combined, the switch-hitting 2011 first-round pick hit .293/.341/.469. He also threw out 46 percent of would-be basestealers and improved his defense behind the plate.

OF: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Quick quiz: How many professional baseball players went 30-30 in 2014? One: Pederson. At No. 16 on the Top 100 and No. 3 on the Dodgers' list, Pederson was the only player at any level to accomplish the feat. The outfielder did it in just 121 games and 448 at-bats with Triple-A Albuquerque before receiving a September callup. Pederson not only had 33 homers and 30 steals, he also had a 1.017 OPS, good for fourth in the Minors. Sure, he struck out 149 times, but he also drew 100 walks en route to a .435 OBP, third among Minor Leaguers.

OF: Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals
A raw, toolsy shortstop-turned-outfielder, Taylor had a breakout year, largely in Double-A, in 2014. The Nationals' No. 3 prospect had a 20-30 season (23 home runs, 37 steals), went to the Futures Game and earned his first big league callup. His strikeout rate is still quite high, but his walk rate and OBP improved this year, signs he's moving in a very good direction.

OF: Steven Souza Jr., Washington Nationals
Souza may not have the same marquee value compared to others on this list -- he's one of only two players not on the Top 100 -- but it's impossible to look past the year he had before joining the Nationals. Souza started the year No. 14 on the Nationals' Top 20 and moved to fifth after hitting .345/.427/.577 over 100 Minor League games. His 1.004 OPS was sixth-best among all Minor League hitters, and he stole 28 bases to boot.

DH: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Gallo certainly belongs on this list, but he was blocked at his normal position by Bryant. The Rangers' top prospect finished just one homer behind Bryant, narrowly missing out on his second straight Minor League home run crown. More impressive than his power output -- though his Futures Game display will be remembered for a long time -- are the adjustments he made to earn a promotion to Double-A. His approach at the plate matured, and as a result he drew more walks and made more contact, giving him more chances to tap into his plus power.

RHP: Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
The MLBPipeline.com Pitching Prospect of the Year, Glasnow shook off an early back issue to absolutely dominate the Florida State League. He finished the year with the lowest opponents' batting average among Minor Leaguers and the third lowest ERA. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, which actually lowered his K/9 rate to 12.0 for his career. He also lowered his BB/9 rate by nearly a walk per nine from last season to this one.

LHP: Daniel Norris, Toronto Blue Jays
There were several quality lefty prospects to consider -- four received votes for Pitching Prospect of the Year, and five are among the top 30 overall prospects -- but Norris' season truly does stand out. The 2011 second-round pick began the year in the Florida State League and ended it in the big leagues, putting up eye-popping numbers along the way. The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect finished fifth in the Minors with 163 strikeouts, held hitters to a .212 batting average and finished with a 2.53 ERA. His 11.8 K/9 rate was coupled with a 3.1 BB/9 mark.

RP: R.J. Alvarez, San Diego Padres
Alvarez began the year as the Angels' No. 7 prospect, but was dealt to the Padres in the Huston Street deal. He's not on the Padres Top 20 currently, but he's pitched as though he belongs. Between the two organizations, Alvarez posted a 1.25 ERA in 38 relief appearances, striking out 12.7 per nine while walking 2.7. Hitters managed just a .192 batting average against him in the Minors, and he's been just as stingy during his big league debut this September.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Dunn's move to two-hole gives A's a spark

Dunn's move to two-hole gives A's a spark

ARLINGTON -- A's manager Bob Melvin shook up what's been a rather lifeless lineup for Friday night's game against the Rangers, taking Adam Dunn out of the cleanup spot and inserting him behind leadoff man Coco Crisp.

The move paid off, as Dunn put the A's on the scoreboard with a two-run double in the third inning, paving the way for a 6-2 win that cut Oakland's magic number to clinch a spot in the American League Wild Card Game to one.

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It was the 107th time in Dunn's 14-year big league career he's batted second, but the first since 2008. He entered the night having hit .276 with a .388 on-base percentage and 28 home runs in 416 at-bats from the spot.

"We're just trying to mix it up some," said Melvin. "Draw a walk or two and see how it works out. When you're stagnant offensively some, sometimes just a change of scenery or mixing it up some can be beneficial."

"As long as I'm in there, it doesn't matter," said Dunn, badly wanting to get to the playoffs for the first time in his lengthy career. "It's not like we're screwing up a good thing right now. I think it's a way bigger deal to other people than it is to the players in here."

The A's are in dire need of some offensive production, particularly with men on base. Crisp reached five times in Thursday's series-opening loss and didn't score once.

The A's entered the game with a magic number of two over the Mariners to clinch an American League Wild Card berth.

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

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Moss set for offseason surgery on injured right hip

Moss set for offseason surgery on injured right hip

ARLINGTON -- A's outfielder Brandon Moss has been playing through a right hip injury for much of the year and is prepared to undergo surgery on it as soon as Oakland's season concludes.

Moss has been dealing with the injury since mid-May, but only recently has it really become a concern, which is why he opted to go for an MRI exam on Monday that revealed torn cartilage. He was unavailable Wednesday after receiving a cortisone shot but returned to the lineup for Thursday's four-game-series opener in Texas, playing in left field.

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"As far as the pain, there really isn't any right now," said Moss. "Today it feels really good."

But a cortisone shot can only mask an injury for so long, and Moss understands offseason surgery isn't even up for debate at this point. It's simply a matter of deciding what kind is best, be it microfracture surgery, which would sideline him through the majority of Spring Training, or a more minor clean-up procedure.

"Best-case scenario would be to go in there and just clean out what's in there," he said. "Obviously there are things floating around in there.

"Something has to be done. Can't just leave it alone. Leaving it alone isn't going to do it any good."

Moss has gradually lost mobility and strength, but he does not want to use that as an excuse for his second-half struggles at the plate. He entered the day batting .179 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 54 games since the All-Star break, after batting .268 with 21 homers and 66 RBIs in the 89 games before it.

"When you have something going on, your body finds a way to compensate for it, so mechanical things change and such, but as far as how I felt at the plate, I didn't feel any different," he said. "There may have been some differences, but I didn't feel that way. I felt like I was swinging at bad pitches. That's all there was to it."

Moss later added what manager Bob Melvin echoed: "I have a hard time pinning all of my struggles on that. It progressively got worse through the season, but I was playing with it early in the season, too. It hurt, it bothered me, but until recently, I didn't think it was nearly as bad as it was."

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

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