Five AL wild-card questions

One team made it to the playoffs for the first time since 1985. The other recorded the lowest winning percentage (.433) in the second half of the season by any team since the first All-Star Game in 1933. One team has an offensive stat line that doesn't make sense for a playoff team. The other seemingly hasn't had a good offensive night since July 31.

One team is called the Athletics, and they used to call the other team's city home. It's the Oakland A's against the Kansas City Royals in the American League wild-card game, a flawed, but fascinating one-game playoff.

Here are five questions.


How do the Royals score runs?

They are the first team to ever make the playoffs in a season in which they finished last in the league in home runs and walks. They finished ninth in the league in runs scored, they don't have anyone with 75 RBIs, and they have no one with 20 home runs. But the Royals led the league in stolen bases by a healthy margin, they struck out fewer times than any team and they are pretty good at scratching across a run. "A different hero every night,'' said left fielder Alex Gordon. "We usually find a way get it done.


Will the A's ever score again?

Since July 31, the day they traded Yeonis Cespedes to Boston, the A's have been shut out seven times. Their offensive demise began slightly before the Cespedes deal, but without him, they have gone from one of the best offensive teams in the game to one of the worst. Cespedes, one member of the A's said, "gave us our swagger. He was the one guy in our lineup that teams really feared. And when the lights got the brightest, in the playoffs, he was our best player.'' But their staggering offense is due to much more than not having Cespedes. Brandon Moss, who is playing hurt, has hit two home runs since July 24. Josh Donaldson, who has been playing hurt, hasn't been his wildly productive self, either. Look at that A's lineup on a daily basis. It's no wonder they can't score many runs.


How much of a game-changer is the K.C. defense?

It is, along with their bullpen, the biggest reason for their trip to the playoffs. Salvador Perez is probably the best defensive catcher in the game. Orioles manager Buck Showalter calls him "a giant pillow'' behind the plate; because he is so big, and his hands and body are so soft, balls in the dirt hit him and fall softly in front of him. Eric Hosmer is a Gold Glover at first base; no first baseman in the league throws better than he does. Mike Moustakas is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman. Gordon is the best defensive left fielder in the game; no left fielder charges a ball and comes up throwing better than he does. Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are tremendous in the outfield. When the Royals play Gordon, Dyson and Cain in the outfield, "nothing drops," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "Nothing."


Is this game why the A's traded for Jon Lester?

Yes. The A's gave up a lot in Cespedes, yet they needed to add a No. 1 starter to their rotation, a guy with not just experience in October, but success in October, and Lester has been dominant in October. They couldn't have a better guy pitching an elimination game than Lester. His opponent is Royals ace James Shields. This is such an appetizing matchup, two big-game starters, one of whom will be the pitching the final game for his team. Lester is a free agent after the season, and he is certain to sign a huge contract elsewhere. Shields also is a free agent after the season, and there's little chance that the Royals will have the money to afford him. Lester and Shields -- loser goes home. How perfect.


Is there a better bullpen than the Royals' bullpen?

No. Not now. The seventh inning is covered by Kelvin Herrera, who throws 100 mph, and recently had a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 30 2/3 innings. The eighth inning is taken by Wade Davis, who throws 98 mph, and recently had a consecutive scoreless innings streak of 31 2/3 innings. He allowed five extra base hits -- no home runs -- the entire season. The ninth inning is taken by the wildly underrated Greg Holland, who throws 97 mph, and has 40 saves in back-to-back seasons. "We feel the game is over if we lead after six," Moustakos said. "That's how good our pen is."

The pick: Royals