Posted on October 1, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine

Athletics vs Rays
Image via mercurynews.com

After both teams won well over 90 games during the regular season, it all comes down to one game between the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card Game. The A’s were in this position last year but lost a road game to the Yankees. This time around, Oakland will get to host the Wild Card Game against the Rays, who are experiencing postseason baseball for the first time since 2013 when they beat the Indians in the Wild Card Game, only to lose to the Red Sox in the ALDS.

It’s Been a While

It’s been over three months since the A’s and the Rays saw each other. All seven games between the two teams this season took place in June. First, Oakland took two out of three from the Rays in Tampa before the teams split a four-game set in Oakland a couple of weeks later. Since then, the A’s have added several key pieces to their pitching staff, trading for veterans, getting pitchers back from injury, and also promoting young pitchers from their farm system. That pitching depth is one of Oakland’s biggest strengths heading into the postseason, and the one-game Wild Card is no different, as they’ll be able to mix and match late in the games to find favorable matchups. 

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The Rays have also made some additions to their pitching staff since they last saw the A’s in June. The back end of Tampa’s bullpen is loaded with options that will also allow them to find the best matchups to face Oakland’s hitters late in the game. The Rays also saw young ace Tyler Glasnow return to the mound last month after missing the middle part of the season. While he won’t start, Glasnow could end up playing an important role in Wednesday’s game.

Pitching Matchup

The Rays will send veteran Charlie Morton to the mound against the A’s. The 35-year-old had one of the best seasons of his career in 2019, going 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA over 33 starts. He also boasts plenty of postseason experience, starting six games and making one relief outing. Most of those appearances came two years ago when he helped the Astros win the World Series. More importantly, he dominated the A’s in his two starts against them earlier this year, allowing just one run on six hits over 13.1 innings across the two starts.

The A’s will counter with lefty Sean Manaea. The 27-year-old missed most of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery during the offseason. But Manaea has picked up where he left off last season when he was Oakland’s ace. In five starts, Manaea went 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA. That was enough for Oakland to give the lefty the nod over Mike Fiers, who was one of the best starters in the American League all season.

X-Factor

The X-factor in this game could be Oakland’s bullpen. While Morton has been used as a traditional starter this year, the Rays are accustomed to using openers and having their bullpen shoulder a heavy load. However, the A’s could take a similar strategy in a one-game situation. With just five starts this season, the A’s may not trust Manaea if he struggles early. He also may not pitch more than five or six innings. While the A’s have plenty of veteran relievers, they could use young flamethrowers like A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo, who the Tampa hitters haven’t seen yet and could serve as a bridge from Manaea to closer Liam Hendriks. 

Prediction

Playing in the Wild Card Game last season can only work to Oakland’s advantage, as should playing at home. This game could go either way, as both teams are good enough to make some noise if they can get to the ALDS. But the little bit of postseason experience the A’s have will prove critical Oakland wins 4-2.

Note: This prediction is the opinion of the author and not necessarily the prediction of Jon Price or Sports Information Traders.

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