The Athletics are minutes away from hosting the Rays in a wild-card matchup consisting of two of the majors’ lowest-spending teams. Even though the A’s and Rays don’t boast the spending power of fellow AL playoff clubs such as the Yankees and Astros, that didn’t stop either Oakland or Tampa Bay from enjoying outstanding regular seasons. The A’s, built by executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst, amassed 97 wins and posted the majors’ fifth-best run differential (plus-165). The Rays, led by by their own formidable two-man setup of senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom and GM Erik Neander, rival the A’s in victories (96) and run differential (plus-113, which places seventh in the game).
Oakland will initially turn to left-hander Sean Manaea in Wednesday’s matchup, even though he missed the majority of the regular season while recovering from the shoulder surgery he underwent last September. The 27-year-old Manaea was fantastic during the five starts he did make this season, though, having notched a sterling 1.21 ERA (with a less imposing 3.42 FIP) and 9.1 K/9 against 2.12 BB/9 in 29 2/3 innings. He’ll try to contain a Rays lineup that was tough on lefties during the regular campaign, as the unit logged the league’s 11th-highest wRC+ (101) versus southpaws.
Meanwhile, the Rays will count on the battle-tested Charlie Morton, a brilliant offseason free-agent signing who’s just two falls removed from serving as a playoff hero for World Series-winning Houston. The 35-year-old Morton has been among the absolute best pitchers in baseball in 2019, evidenced by the 3.05 ERA/2.81 FIP with 11.1 K/9 and 2.64 BB/9 he has put forth across a career-high 194 2/3 frames. He’ll deal with an A’s offense that has caused headaches for righties, who yielded a 104 wRC+ (the game’s sixth-highest figure) to Oakland’s hitters. Center fielder Mark Canha, first baseman Matt Olson, shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Matt Chapman have made life especially miserable on RHPs this season.
In all likelihood, both teams’ bullpens will figure prominently in tonight’s contest. Both groups were among the league’s most successful in the regular season, and the two look especially loaded for a one-game playoff. Reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell, breakout righty Tyler Glasnow and dominant in-season pickup Nick Anderson are at the forefront of the Rays’ options, while the A’s bring to the table imposing youngsters Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, not to mention lights-out closer Liam Hendriks and workhorse righty Yusmeiro Petit, among others.
Regardless of who wins tonight, the hope is the game will rival the excitement of Tuesday’s Nationals-Brewers matchup. The home team, Washington, survived a thriller to advance to the National League Division Series. Now, will the A’s also hold serve in their stadium? Or will the Rays move on to face the top-seeded Astros in the ALDS?
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