MLB Network analyst says Royals’ speed could make the difference

Jarrod Dyson stole second before the tag from Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus in a game earlier this month.
Jarrod Dyson stole second before the tag from Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus in a game earlier this month. The Kansas City Star

A common concern among Royals fans ahead of Tuesday’s playoff game is Jon Lester’s track record against Kansas City.

You know all about Lester’s 9-3 record against the Royals and that he’s allowed one earned run or less in nine of 14 starts against KC.

Former major-league pitcher Al Leiter, who now works for The MLB Network, said that’s a legitimate concern.

“You know the teams you’ve done well against, you know the guys you’ve done well against, so in the 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 counts, that’s generally a defensive count for a pitcher when you’re in a hitter’s count, he’s going to have a different look, he’s going to have different mind-set,” Leiter said in a phone interview. “The fact that he’s done well against Kansas City that will add to your confidence.”

However ...

“All it takes is one mistake to a Salvador Perez or a Eric Hosmer, if they catch up to one and there’s one or two on base, there’s your three runs,” Leiter said.

Three runs would be huge for the Royals. But Leiter said with the Royals’ shut-down bullpen, he wouldn’t be surprised to see Ned Yost play for one run.

“When you can shorten the game,” Leiter said, “it changes the mind-set for the manager knowing that you can play legitimate small-ball.”

In fact, Leiter thinks the Royals’ speed could make a difference.

“If Derek Norris is behind the plate, it’s even better for the Kansas City Royals to run,” Leiter said. “I look for Ned Yost to find every opportunity to get some of his speedster moving. The ratio for caught stealing is not good with Lester on the mound. I would take advantage of that. If you can manufacture and push across a run, whether it’s one early in the game and another one, I think it’s going to put a tremendous amount of pressure.”

Baserunners stole 16 bases in 21 attempts (76.2 percent) against Lester.

ESPN noted that of the 498 pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched this season, Lester was the only one who didn’t attempt a single pickoff throw.

The other thing working in the Royals’ favor is how the A’s stumbled down the stretch. Oakland lost 20 of its last 30 games this season.

Some say momentum means nothing when it comes to the postseason. But Leiter, who won World Series titles with the Blue Jays (1993) and Marlins (1997), doesn’t buy that.

“If you’re on the side of a team that was hitting on all cylinders and getting into the postseason and everyone is feeling good about themselves, you play off that,” he said. “You use that as your mantra. I’m sure (A’s manager) Bob Melvin is not saying that; he’s saying, ‘Look everybody is 0-0. This is game one. We’ve got an ace on the mound and let’s forget about what just happened.’

“I think that’s easier in words. There’s a reason why they struggled down the stretch, there’s a reason why guys didn’t hit and it became a lot more pressure and that pressure for a baseball player is never good.”

Leiter is with the MLB Network, which will carry two NL playoff games (game two of Cardinals-Dodgers on Saturday and game three of Nationals-Giants/Pirates on Monday). But he is eager to watch Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game.

“I love James Shields,” he said. “I think there’s a reason they call him Big Game James. Anytime I watch a guy who starts a game in today’s game and wants to finish it is all right with me -- not that he has to do that in Kansas City, because there are some great arms coming out of the bullpen. I think it’s going to be a heck of a game.”

To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to pgrathoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/pgrathoff