The Bigger the Better for Jon Lester

27010569_4815477e31_zAt the end of July, the Oakland Athletics made one of the biggest trades of the 2014 season, sending Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for ace Jon Lester. The move was said to bolster what, at the time, looked like a dominant A’s pitching rotation. But instead of sparking the A’s to a winning spree, the Oakland A’s have been on a freefall since the trade. On July 31st Oakland was 66-41, but they proceeded to go 22-33 in August and September, and finished the year 88-74.  The A’s went from being in the running for the AL West pennant, to barely squeaking into the MLB playoffs with the 2nd AL Wild Card spot and having to go on the road in MLB’s ALWCS.

It was during that freefall that the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals first met this season. The two clubs would meet 7 times in August and September, with the Royals dominating, going 5-2 against the reeling A’s. Nonetheless, Oakland has confidence going into tonight’s AL Wild Card game because they have Jon Lester. Their two wins against the Royals came when Jon Lester was on the mound. Lester has faced the Kansas City Royals 3 times this season (once with the Red Sox) and is 3-0. But why does Jon Lester really give the A’s the best chance of winning in the 2014 AL Wild Card Game? We looked at the average number of hits, earned runs, and strike outs for the A’s starting pitching in the 7 games between the Oakland A’s and the Kansas City Royals this season.

ALWildCard2014

In the 5 games that Jon Lester was not the starting pitcher for the A’s, Kansas City averaged just under 7 hits and had an average of 2.6 earned runs against the A’s starting pitching. When Lester was on the mound, the Royals averaged 7.5 hits per game and 3 earned runs. Looking at these numbers alone, it doesn’t seem that Jon Lester actually pitched any better against the Royals than the rest of the A’s starting pitchers. But Jon Lester in August, is not the same as Jon Lester in October (or September 30th). The playoffs change everything.

As Jon Lester runs out at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City tonight, it will be into an extremely hostile environment. The Kansas City Royals have not hosted a playoff game in almost 30 years. This drought has brought a surge of demand for tickets to tonight’s game, and the median ticket price is up to $132 as of 9/30/14. Despite the environment, and an opposing pitcher of the caliber of James Shields, the Oakland A’s are expecting to win behind a dominating pitching performance. The A’s traded for Lester, not for regular season wins, but for his ability to rise to big games. Lester is 6-4 in 13 postseason starts with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.43 ERA in the World Series. The bigger the game, the better Jon Lester. Does it get any bigger than win or go home?

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