The National League Wild Card game is in the books! So, let’s take the bats out of the pitcher’s hands, and head over to the American League!
Ch-Oakland No Longer
Bob Melvin has now been in more wild card playoff games than any other American League manager. After tonight’s game, Melvin will tie former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, for total Wild Card appearances with three. In his first two trips to the one-game playoff, Melvin is 0-2, being outscored 16-10 by his opponents.
In last year’s Wild Card game, Oakland seemed doomed from the start, sending Liam Hendriks to the hill opposite a potent, bruising powerhouse of a Yankees offense. They lost 7-2 and went back to the drawing board.
This time around, a year later, the Athletics face a different kind of challenge. The Rays offer a more mentally bruising approach. This Tampa Bay ball club moves the line, gets runners on, and waits for you to blink before striking. The Rays will get you when you least expect it, so the best plan of action is to be on your guard.
Luckily for the Athletics, they’re sending a bit more experience to the mound than they did last year. Sean Manaea takes the ball for the A’s with his solid 2019 numbers in tow. At a glance, his 1.21 ERA, .0777 WHIP, and his undefeated record will make you double-take until you realize that he’s only pitched in 5 games.
For any other team that might be a disappointment, but after getting arthroscopic shoulder surgery following his incredible 2018 season, Oakland is just happy to have him pitching this soon. And it would appear that he’s ready to go against a Rays offense that is ready for a good challenge.
As for their own bats, the Athletics brought a lot of the same faces from their prior season, and those same faces had a lot of the same stat lines. The top three Athletic bats belonged to Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, and Mat Olson. The most fascinating piece of this trio is that their numbers are nearly identical.
- Marcus Semien: .285/.369/.522, .892 OPS, 43 2Bs, 33 HRs, 92 RBIs
- Matt Chapman: .249/.342/.506, .848 OPS, 36 2Bs, 36 HRs, 91 RBIs.
- Matt Olson: .267/.351/.545, 896 OPS, 26 2Bs, 36 HRs, 91 RBIs.
When leading off the night with these three hitters, the Athletics lineup becomes suffocatingly effective. Move the line, let each player’s specialty come through, and you’ll be fine. It’s how they’ve gotten this far in the first place.
Rays of Golden Sunshine
The Tampa Bay Rays won 96 games this season and finished second in the AL East, behind the New York Yankees. The last time the Rays won more than 95 games? All the way back in 2008, when they went to the World Series. Could history repeat itself? Hard to tell.
The Rays have a solid squad, a lot of it made up of trades and offseason acquisitions over the last few years. Of the Rays top 5 players in 2019, three were acquired via trades (Austin Meadows in 2018, Tommy Pham in 2018, and Willy Adames in 2014) and Charlie Morton was signed in the offseason following another postseason run with the Houston Astros.
The 35-year-old Morton has been the lynchpin of a starting rotation that doesn’t normally use starters. Continuing his normal dominance, Morton brought that Houston Astros swagger with him to Florida, subsequently finding himself in the Top 5 AL pitchers in almost every category.
The most important stats of Morton’s heading into the Wild Card Game are his numbers vs. Oakland this year and his HR/9.
Unlike Manaea across the diamond, Morton faced the Athletics twice this year, stifling their bats to the tune of a .133 average over two games. Morton’s 0.68 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, and 6 total hits, give you a look into what Oakland hitters will be facing.
The other important piece of statistical data is Morton’s 0.694 HR/9, a stat that leads all major league pitchers. We’ve seen, both in recent memory and in the past, how much damage the long ball does to a team fighting for their lives in a one-game playoff.
Connor Gillaspie killed the Mets in 2016, the Yankees home run deluge in 2018 all but ended the Oakland franchise, and Yasmani Grandal and Eric Thames nearly iced the Nationals playoff hopes early on against Max Scherzer.
With Morton’s penchant for keeping the ball in the ballpark, the big bats for Oakland might need to look for open real estate within the ballpark, and not just beyond the walls. When it comes to beating Charlie Morton, it has to be death by a thousand cuts.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 5, Oakland 1
As much as I think Bob Melvin is a great manager who deserves the world, I just don’t think Sean Manaea, or really any other A’s pitcher can quiet the Tampa Bay bats. The Rays hit 10 points better away from Tropicana Field, and that’s something the A’s can’t say for themselves at home.
I’m looking for this one to stay close for a while, each team jockeying for a run until the game gets broken wide-open later on. I just think Tampa Bay has the more developed game plan and a more developed arm on the hill.
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