The 162-game regular season is gone. The 2014 MLB playoffs are here. Rejoice baseball fans.
The first two playoff matchups are just around the corner, and the do-or-die atmosphere that comes with a one-game Wild Card Round is sure to make these two contests even more intense.
In the American League, you've got the Oakland Athletics looking to exercise the demons of their 2013 American League Division Series exit, while the Kansas City Royals are making their return to the postseason for the first time since 1985, snapping the longest postseason drought in the four major sports.
As Sam Mellinger of The Kansas City Star points out, that distinction now belongs to the Toronto Blue Jays:
Over in the senior circuit, the Pittsburgh Pirates are participating in their second straight Wild Card Game against the San Francisco Giants, who are making their fourth postseason appearance in the last five years.
So who will win these matchups, and whose postseason stay will last just one game?
American League Wild Card
First on the docket is Kansas City and Oakland on Tuesday night.
This one will feature on heck of a pitching matchup with the Royals' James Shields squaring off against Jon Lester, according to Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star:
Both starters are among the AL's elite, and both are known as workhorses. This year, however, Lester's numbers point to an advantage for Oakland in this matchup:
|Jon Lester and James Shield 2014 Statistics|
When it comes to the two pitchers in the postseason, the big southpaw has the edge as well:
|Jon Lester and James Shields Career Postseason Statistics|
The man they call "Big Game James" told MLB.com that he's ready to go and would have been confident regardless of Kansas City's opponent after Game 162:
In terms of the two teams at the plate, the Royals hold the edge in team batting average, but Oakland finished out front in other important offensive categories:
|Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals Hitting Comparison|
|Team||Batting Average||Runs Scored||Home Runs||OPS|
|Kansas City Royals||.263||651||95||.690|
Finally when it comes to the two teams' bullpens, Oakland once again has the better numbers:
|Oakland A's and Kansas City Royals Bullpen Comparison|
|Kansas City Royals||3.30||464||1.24||.235|
It's important to remember, though, that Kansas City did end up finishing ahead of the A's in the standings, earning themselves home-field advantage for this crucial do-or-die game.
Oakland also stumbled into the postseason, posting a record of 10-16 in the month of September, compared to Kansas City's 15-12 mark, which should dissuade the notion that this one should be a win for Oakland.
Ultimately, this one should be as close as the final standings—in which these teams were separated by just a game—indicate.
Prediction: Oakland may be struggling heading into the one-game playoff in Kansas City, but with Lester being so dominant in the postseason, and the slight edge they hold offensively and in the bullpen, Oakland should advance to play the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Oakland 3, Kansas City 1
National League Wild Card
Just one night after the first matchup, it will be the National League's turn to shine.
The Wild Card matchup between the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates should also be a tight one.
This one will see the Pirates' Edinson Volquez face off with the Giants' Madison Bumgarner:
When it comes to these two starters, Bumgarner has to be favored to help his team into the NLDS.
With all due respect to Volquez, this is his first real standout season since 2008, while Bumgarner has developed into a legitimate staff ace over the course of the past few years.
Across the board, the southpaw has been better than Volquez this season:
|Madison Bumgarner and Edinson Volquez Head-to-Head Comparison|
The fact that Bumgarner also has a respectable postseason ERA of 3.79 and WHIP of 1.23, while Volquez only has one playoff appearance in which he gave up four earned runs in just 1.2 innings also points to the Giants holding a big advantage.
Pittsburgh will need its offense to play its best ball and take advantage of the few opportunities that Bumgarner may concede.
They'll also need all the support they can get from the "blacked out" crowd:
Prediction: Starting pitching is the name of the game in the postseason, and Bumgarner gives the Giants too big of an edge to pick against them.
San Francisco Giants 6, Pittsburgh Pirates 2
Regardless of your opinion of the two-team Wild Card format, it provides an incredible amount of excitement and intensity.
With the AL's participants separated by just a game and the NL's two clubs having identical 88-74 records, this season's sudden-death matchups should be incredible affairs.
Jon Reid is a correspondent for Bleacher Report. Follow him on twitter @JonReidCSM.