2019 AL Wild Card Game Preview

A year after winning 90 games and missing the playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays have fought their way back and trumped an incredibly surprising 2018 campaign with an even more astonishing 2019 season, finishing with an incredible 96-66 record.

And it earned them a spot in the Wild Card Game.

The Rays winning 90 games last season and not making the playoffs felt downright unfair.  The Cleveland Indians are now rolling their eyes, as they finished with a record of 93-69 and failed to make the playoffs this year, but Cleveland falling out of the playoff race something we kind of saw coming.  This Rays rise is different.

Yet, it makes sense.  Their talent had always been there.  Now, with a creative pitching approach and new sluggers like Austin Meadows, Brandon Lowe and Avisail Garcia hitting a ton of home runs, the Rays are at the fore-front of baseball’s new age.

They face the Oakland A’s, who have been operating like this for years now.  Low-budget, small ball is the name-brand of Oakland, and it’s gotten them in the playoffs and to 90+ wins yet again.

Tampa Bay is going with offseason signing Charlie Morton on the mound, who has been fantastic in his age 35 season.  The former Astros right-hander has posted a 3.05 ERA and a 147 ERA+ in 33 starts.  Perhaps his most important statistic though?  His 0.7 home runs per nine innings, one of the lowest numbers in the league out of qualified pitchers.  That’s huge against an Oakland team that hit the fifth-most dingers in baseball this season.

Morton also does a good job keeping the ball on the ground.  He finished 45th out of 58 qualified starters in fly ball rate this season.

But the A’s lineup is terrifying; a sneakily underrated one in this postseason full of gauntlet-like batting orders.  Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Marcus Sieman (8.1 bWAR!) are the top guys, but seven A’s hit 20+ home runs this year.  Terrifying might be an understatement.

Oakland is throwing Sean Manaea out there, a bold proposition considering it will be his sixth start of the season.  Shoulder surgery kept him out until September, where Manaea made five starts, all of which he pitched at least five innings in.  Manaea’s been fantastic in those starts, posting a 1.21 ERA and accumulating 1.4 WAR in those starts.  That’s 1.4 WAR in September alone.

With so many innings thrown by Manaea, concern about rust is void.  He’s shown that he can be out there for a decent amount of time.  He hasn’t pitched poorly yet though, which makes a playoff atmosphere a little dicey.

Oakland had the fourth-best bullpen in baseball based on total WAR accumulated, and that was with last year’s standouts Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino regressing big-time.  Both of them out are for the season now with injuries, meaning that guys like Jake Diekman or even Jesus Luzardo could see some work (Luzardo, a rookie, going in a high stakes game like this would be nuts).

If Manaea gets roughed up, the A’s have a deep and talented bullpen ready.

The A’s offense is a daunting group to bet against as well.  But the talent in Tampa Bay’s pitching staff (Best bullpen is baseball), combined with Morton’s ultra effectiveness and favorable numbers, is a bit more trustworthy than Oakland’s.  A game like this is why the Rays signed Morton.  He’ll prove his belonging.

Prediction: Rays-4 A’s-3