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To curb the Royals' running game, Geovany Soto must catch for Oakland on Tuesday

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If the A's have any shot at containing the Royals' impressive running game, Geovany Soto has to handle the catching duties.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Norris is a good catcher and a quality young player. He's one of the young pieces Oakland has built its team around in recent years, and rightfully so. But Derek Norris will severely jeopardize his team's chances of advancing to the American League Division Series if he starts for the Athletics in tomorrow night's Wild Card Game against Kansas City.

Why? The Royals are known to run wild on the basepaths, and Norris has consistently shown throughout the season — especially its final months — that he's not defensively capable of containing that running game.

Kansas City is averaging 0.94 swipes per game, head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Only one other club averages above 0.75 stolen bases, and it's the Dodgers. The A's, by comparison, average just 0.51.

Norris is 12 for 72 on the year throwing out attempted base stealers. That's ugly. In a much smaller sample size, Soto is overwhelmingly better — his 10-for-23 mark is stellar, and makes it hard to attribute the difference to the small sample. Besides, throwing out base stealers is vastly more black-and-white than offense when it comes to determining whether success is based on luck or legitimate ability; there's not much room for debating when comparing each catcher's ability to control the running game.

Besides, in his career, Soto is 150 for 554; he throws runners out at a rate of .27 caught stealing per attempt. Norris is 36 for 165, good for a rate of .218 that was much more comparable to Soto's before his dismal 2014. Norris has been playing hurt, and he'll probably have more success next season throwing runners out stealing. But in the present, there's no denying that Soto is much, much better equipped to curtail Kansas City's running game tomorrow evening.

Tuesday night's starting pitcher, Jon Lester, does present a major road block. Norris has caught every single game Lester has pitched for the Athletics, dating back to his debut on August 2 in Oakland. But Lester is a professional, and he's the one actually deciding what pitch to throw, when to throw it and where to locate it.

Offensive productivity against right-handed pitching would take a hit, too. Soto's career wRC+ against righties is 92. Norris' is 106 in 2014, but he's been scuffling lately and racked up most of that positive productivity in April and June. If Geovany Soto's presence in the lineup, in Norris' stead, means that the A's stand a small chance of racking up one fewer base hit, it's a sacrifice worth making if Soto throws out a runner and dissuades another pair from even attempting a steal.

Jon Lester is one of the American League's best pitchers, but he won't throw a perfect game tomorrow. His stats, as every pitcher's do, imply that he'll give up at least one run, and many baserunners. The A's are struggling to score as it is, and the difference between a runner on first or a runner on second with one out could easily make or break Oakland's season.

It's helpful that Lester is left-handed, and that he possesses a solid slide step. He'll do his job, but he needs to be able to depend on his backstop to do his fair share as well.

Norris will likely appear in the game regardless, as a late-inning pinch-hitter against a left-handed reliever. Leveraging his superior capabilities on offense is fine for a crucial at-bat if it means he plays an inning or two of defense. Maybe he'll even DH. Nine innings of Norris behind the plate, though, is a dangerous game to play with a team that will run him ragged.