A.L. WILD CARD GAME PREVIEW: RAYS @ A’S (10-2)!

RAYS TRAVEL FAR WEST TO FACE A’S IN ONE GAME WINNER TAKE ALL WILD CARD!

LAS VEGAS ODDS:  OAKLAND A’S (-$1.31) — vs. Tampa Bay Rays ~ TOTAL: (7 1/2 RUNS)

Two almost mirror image teams face off for the right to advance to take on the Houston Astros in Wednesday’s A.L Wild Card game. The A’s won 97 games and the Rays won 96, neither backed in after very solid overall seasons this year.

Wild Card games are usually a lot of drama as your entire season rides on “ONE GAME”. Most Managers will throw their best Pitchers, even if it means putting Starters out there, knowing doing that can really mess you up for the next Series, if you pull the Win in this game. Both teams will start very solid guys, but the A’s Manager Melvin would be surely second guessed as he chose to bypass the teams Best Starter all season in favor of a younger guy with only a handful of starts.

Let’s go to Tampa Bay first as they will start Righty Charlie Morton. He was well worth the money he was paid in the offseason, getting him to anchor the staff after pitching great the past few season with the Houston Astros. Morton went (16-6), (3.05 ERA), striking out a very impressive 240 hitters this season. He allowed just 15 Homers, playing in the very tough AL East division. He was (15-3) with a (3.13 ERA) last season, so he’s been extremely dominant these past 2 seasons. He has some positives pitching in Oakland, going 13 1/3rd innings this season in 2 starts there, (.068 ERA). His lifetime ERA in Oaktown is (1.65) and his ERA in his career vs. the A’s is (2.97). That’s the good. The bad is his last 5 starts on the Road this year have been a total disaster. His ERA is (7.52), allowing 3 earned, 6, 4, 4 and 5 in those last 5 highway starts.

Morton’s last 4 September starts he went 6.1, 6.1, 6.1, and 6 innings, allowing 0, 2, 3 and 3 earned runs and 2 homers combined in those last 4 starts.  He did strike out 39 batters his last 5 starts combined and had a (2.73) ERA. The main reason the Rays got Morton was for this type of “Big” game.

The A’s will counter with Lefty Sean Manaea, who went (4-0) with an incredible (1.21) ERA in September. He is (1-1) with a (2.70) career vs. the Rays in 3 overall starts. He allowed 4 runs these past 4 starts, with 3 of them coming on homers allowed. In his two Home starts, Manaea went (12.2) innings, allowed 8 hits, and 3 earned runs.

KEYS TO THIS GAME? Tampa Bay is the #1 team in MLB hitting vs. Lefties. with a very impressive .272 batting average. Manaea only made 5 starts coming in late after offseason surgery, but in 5 starts, he did not allow one base runner to score. Not one. His batting average on balls in play was just .194, so other then allowing a few bombs, this former KC Royals first round pick has been simply lights out coming in late and showing no rust at all.

The A’s bypassed their best Pitcher Mike Fiers last year in the Wild Card game, only to lose 7-2 to the Yankees. Now Melvin bypassed Fiers again to let the very lightly used Manaea, who was coming in late due to arm surgery. Fiers went (15-4) with (3.90) ERA in 184.2 innings of work, including an insane streak of 21 unbeaten starts and a No Hitter as well. He likely will be the first Pitcher in if Manaea tires out or gets hit, much like the Nats did Tuesday bringing in stud Starter, Stephen Strasburg.

BULLPEN REPORT: Rays Pen (3.66) ERA, and the A’s Pen (3.89). The Rays Bullpen has been lights out in September and leads MLB in most categories for Bullpens.

The A’s finished the season playing 6 straight “UNDERS” (Under the posted Total).

The A’s have lost their last 4 Playoff Games.

FINAL PITCH: The A’s will be opening the Upper Deck for this game and fully expects to sell out 56,000 seats. Only 4 Ballparks allowed less Homers than Oakland Coliseum, and only 2 Parks allowed less last season. Morton is a ground ball Pitcher, so he could Offset the big home run bats of the A’s in this Wild Card. Morton also had the lowest Home Run rate in all MLB (of all Starters) (0.69 homers allowed per 9 innings). A’s Manager Melvin went short stints for every Pitcher last year, to no avail, so it will be interesting to see what he decides to do in this one, already on the hook to be second guessed for not choosing Fiers to start this Wild Card game for a second straight year.  The SHARPS have bet this one “UNDER” as it opened 8 and was quickly hit hard.

Enjoy the game and we can only hope it’s as exciting as the NL Wild Card game was.

Gary Greene