MLB

2019 AL Wild Card Preview: Well-Matched Teams Set for Unpredictable Battle

Alex Kielar | October 2nd, 2019 

The Oakland Athletics have done it again; they find themselves back in the wild card game for the second straight year. Everyone counts them out every year, but they surprised us yet again as they set to matchup against another AL East team in the Tampa Bay Rays (lost to Yankees in last year’s wild card game). The Rays are also a team that finds different ways to win, and they were able to outlast a late surge by Cleveland to lock up a spot in this game. Neither team is one of the “elite” teams, but they still found a way to get a chance to meet up with the Houston Astros in the ALDS.

Exceeding Expectations

The expectation for both these teams wasn’t very high, as other teams in the hunt for the wild card and their respective divisions were much better on paper. For Oakland’s case, they didn’t have a shot at their division in the AL West, as the Astros ran away with it, as they should. With the Rays, we knew they had a shot at the AL East after a 90-win season last year, but most people thought the defending champion Red Sox would finish ahead of them for at least second place in the division.

Looking at the AL Wild Card, you had the Indians and Red Sox in the hunt for that. When the Indians went on a surge in the second half, I expected to overtake at least one of these two teams, (or even overtake the Twins in the Central) but they fell short. So this is the matchup we get, a very intriguing one at that; both these teams are very unconventional in their own right.

The Rays and Kevin Cash use their pitching in very unconventional ways, most notably the opener route. The Rays were the team that first introduced the opener, as they start with a reliever for a few innings, then either go to the bullpen or a starter. Other teams have started to use this method more, but the Rays were the innovators. It has gotten the job done, and other teams like the Yankees have used this method with Chad Green and other methods to find pitching success. With budget constraints, the Rays and A’s have to find other ways to win with the young cores on team-friendly deals.

The A’s have put together a solid lineup with Matt Chapman (defensive stud as well), Matt Olson, Marcus Semien, among others like veteran Khris Davis, while the Rays have gotten breakup players like Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows to help them to 96 wins. They also added veteran pitcher Charlie Morton to help compliment the young pitching staff, as he is in the running for the Cy Young and will start the game.

Lineups

Tampa Bay Rays (15th in Runs, 13th in OBP, 15th in SLG, 14th in OPS)

The Rays lineup has been pretty impressive this year, with my pick for their MVP, Austin Meadows having a great breakout year with 33 long balls and a 142 wRC+. Tommy Pham is probably second in the team’s MVP discussion, as he gives them a power-speed threat with 21 homers and 25 stolen bases. Both of these sluggers will make navigating the middle of the Rays’ lineup tough for Oakland. Trade acquisition Jesus Aguilar has been an average hitter for both the Brewers and Rays this year (.236/.325/.389/.714 overall) but can get hits in key spots. He will be coming off the bench with Yandy Diaz getting the start after just returning from a fractured left foot. Diaz was having a pretty solid season prior to the injury (.267/.340/.476, 14 HR, 38 RBI), and is another good bat in the lineup.

Oakland Athletics (8th in Runs, 11th in OBP, 10th in SLG, 10th in OPS)

The Athletics lineup is led by shortstop Semien (.285/.369/.522, 33 HR, 92 RBI), third baseman Chapman (.249/.342/.506, 36 HR, 91 RBI), first baseman Olson (.267/.351/.545, 36 HR, 71 RBI), and center fielder Mark Canha (.273/.396/.517, 26 HR, 58 RBI). This lineup has a lot of fire power and can definitely explode at anytime. Veteran DH Davis always has the power factor, as he hit 39 home runs this year. The A’s lineup will be tough for Rays starter Morton to navigate, and I could see them putting up big numbers.

Advantage: Athletics

Pitching Matchup

Tampa Bay Rays

Charlie Morton (3.05 ERA, 3.28 xFIP, 1.08 WHIP, 7.2 BB%, 30.4 K%) has had a very solid season, as he is in the Cy Young race along with former Astros teammates Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. It will be key for Morton to have a strong outing and limit the ball to in the ballpark against the powerful A’s lineup.

Oakland Athletics

Sean Manaea (1.21 ERA, 3.98 xFIP, 0.78 WHIP, 6.4 BB%, 27.5 K%) has been very good since returning to the A’s rotation following being out with injury, winning his last four starts to end the regular season. The left-handed Manaea might have somewhat of an advantage as the Rays have been slightly worse versus lefties than righties, but they do have solid platoon options that could give Manaea some fits, along with the lefties in their lineup that produce well against lefty pitchers.

Verdict

Both teams have come into this game at a bit of a surprise, and either one has a chance to win. It will most likely come down to pitching and who can take advantage of more mistakes. The A’s come into the game on a hot streak (seven of 12 wins to close the season) which allowed them to overtake the Rays for the first wild card and giving them home field; them being at the rowdy O.co Coliseum should give them a pretty big advantage. I see the A’s coming up huge on offense against Morton and the Rays bullpen, and win this game in somewhat commanding fashion.

Athletics 7-3

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