Despite a 22-33 record over the past two months as well as injuries and inconsistency, the Oakland Athletics secured the second American League wild-card spot in the season’s final game.

With 162 games now in the rear-view mirror,’s John Schlegel reports the A’s will send Jon Lester to the mound on Tuesday night against Kansas City’s James Shields in the hope of avoiding an early offseason.

During the team’s stretch-run slide, Oakland’s lineup struggled to hit in the clutch, its defense looked shaky on routine plays and several members of the starting rotation showed signs of fatigue.

In recent weeks, fans and media learned that the Athletics had been playing with less than a full deck, including a Brandon Moss hip condition that will require offseason surgery and nagging knee issues for Josh Donaldsonnot to mention John Jaso and Craig Gentry being lost for the foreseeable future with concussions.

Jonah Keri and Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight offered some statistically based reassurance to Oakland fans, indicating that heading into the postseason hot has had no correlation with performance in the playoffs since 1969.

Regardless, the Athletics need to click from the moment the lineup is submitted until the final out is made to survive Tuesday night’s play-in game. How can Oakland give itself the best chance to win?

Here are its three keys to winning the Wild Card Game.


Lean on Lester

It’s been repeated over and over: Jon Lester wasn’t acquired for August. He was brought on board for October. After shipping fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes to Boston in exchange for the lefty ace, general manager Billy Beane’s insight willfairly or unfairlybe judged by Tuesday night’s outcome.

Faced with a win-or-go-home scenario, there’s not one starter on the roster that manager Bob Melvin would rather send to the mound.

“This is why you get a Jon Lester, to pitch in big games,” Melvin told Schlegel.

Lester faced Kansas City three times in 2014, winning all of his decisions and compiling a 2.61 ERA. Throughout his career, he has held middle-of-the-lineup power threats Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to .160 and .143 batting averages, respectively.

To further aid Lester’s cause,’s Dick Kaegel reported that Ned Yost will sit Jayson Nixwho is 8-for-26 with three home runs in his career against Lesterin favor of Mike Moustakas.

The Royals offense finished last in the league in home runs and walks, which means Lester must stay aware of sacrifice plays and heads-up baserunning.

“It’s the same mentality, same preparation, same routine,” Lester told Schlegel about the preparation for this game.

An early lead of one or two runs may be all Lester needs to shut down Kansas City and continue his long history of success in October.


Get Clutch Performances from Donaldson and Reddick

While Oakland’s ace has only worn green and gold for two months, right fielder Josh Reddick and third baseman Josh Donaldson have been part of Athletics postseason baseball since their division win in 2012.

Reddick was the team’s most consistent hitter through the doldrums of August and September, putting up a .294/.337/.510 line with six home runs over 46 games. Donaldson has been debatably the gutsiest, making spectacular plays at the hot corner and igniting the offense in the clutch despite a nagging left knee injury.

“What [Donaldson] means for our team is pretty significant,” manager Bob Melvin told’s Jane Lee. “It’s production, it’s defense, all of the above. He gives us exactly that.”

Oakland will need both cornerstones to be a presence in the lineup, especially in the early innings.

Reddick’s numbers against Shieldsthree home runs and a .318 average in 22 at-batsspeak for themselves, and the team will need big hits from him and Donaldson to take the lead before the game winds up in the hands of the Royals’ bullpen.


Control the Running Game

What the Kansas City lineup lacks in pop, it makes up for in speed. With burners Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar on the roster, the Royals will depend largely on their running game to manufacture runs.

Protecting against the stolen base begins with the backstop, and Derek Norris’ struggles throwing out runners have been well-documented as of late.

Melvin showed his commitment to keeping Royals runners honest when’s David Schoenfield reported that Geovany Soto would get the nod despite never catching a Lester start.

Soto gunned out 10 of 23 attempted base stealers, which is stellar when compared against Norris’ 12 of 72, and his bat came alive with five hits in the final series against Texas.

Curbing Kansas City’s speed goes beyond the starting catcher, however. The Athletics will need to avoid the miscues in the field that haunted them down the stretch and prevent runners from reaching or advancing on errors.

Despite two months of play that it’d like to forget, Oakland is in a position to win behind one of the strongest postseason pitchers in the game.

Expect a tight game, a low score and an Athletics team ready to turn the calendar’s page.

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