Wild Card preview: Rays and A’s at Oakland Coliseum

mercurynews.com file photo: Oakland Athletics’ Khris Davis (2) removes his helmet after batting against the Toronto Blue Jays in the second inning of their MLB game at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Friday, April 19, 2019.

By Jerry Feitelberg

OAKLAND — After a long season of 162 games, the A’s and Rays will have to have a one-game playoff to determine which team will advance to the American League Division Series. The winner will then face the Houston Astros. The Astros had the best record in the AL, and the series will start in Houston.

The A’s finished the season with a record of 97-65 to earn the right to host the Wild Card game. The A’s are 52-27 at the Coliseum this season. The Rays are a good road team, and they will not be intimidated having to play in Oakland. The Rays are 48-37 away from home and that record is the second-best in the MLB.

The Rays believe that they have a slight advantage as they will send Charlie Morton to the hill Wednesday night. Morton had a career-year with a record of 16-6. He pitched 194.2 innings and had an ERA of 3.05. Also, he struck out 240 batters and was very stingy in issuing walks. Morton was effective against right-handed hitters. The A’s lineup is loaded with righties as Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, and Khris Davis will have their collective hands full trying to get to Morton. Morton limited righties to just four home runs in 351 at-bats.

The A’s have not announced their starter as of Monday afternoon. People are speculating that Bob Melvin will go with either Mike Fiers or Sean Manaea. Fiers, like Morton, had a career year. Fiers was 15-4 for the year and had an ERA of 3.90. Fiers also pitched a no-hitter against Cincinnati in May. Manaea made five starts for Oakland after coming off the IL in August. Manaea was 4-0 and was quite effective. He pitched 29.2 innings. Manaea had to learn how to deal with a declining velocity on his fastball. He threw at 93-94 MPH before being shut down with a shoulder injury last summer. His fastball has been clocked around 90 MPH this year, but he has been throwing strikes and moving the ball in the zone.

While the A’s might not have the edge in the starting pitcher department, they do have a better bullpen than the Rays. If the A’s starter, whoever that may be, falters, Melvin will not hesitate to bring in the relievers. The bullpen, missing Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen, has been bolstered by the additions of lefties Jake Diekman, A.J.Puk, and Jesus Luzardo. Luzardo has pitched very well and can be used as a closer. Melvin will also rely on Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, and Liam Hendriks. Hendriks has performed exceptionally well and went to the All-Star Game this year.

The Rays’ bullpen includes Diego Castillo, Chaz Roe, Colin Poche, and Oliver Drake. The long relievers are Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks. Current Cy Young winner Blake Snell is back and throwing well. Six-foot seven-inch Tyler Glasnow will also be available. They will be ready to shut down the A’s offense when called on.

The A’s will also have the advantage on offense and defense. The A’s have three players in the infield that hit over 30 homers each this year. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson led the team with 36 dingers each. Semien had a career-high 33 round-trippers. Chapman and Semien are candidates for AL Most Valuable Player. Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, Chad Pinder, Jurickson Profar, and Josh Phegley can all drive the ball out of the park.  On defense, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are again candidates to win a Gold Glove. Marcus Semien at shortstop has worked hard to improve his defense. He worked with Ron Washington to get better and he, too, is a Gold Glove candidate.

The Rays offense is led by Austin Meadows. Meadows had 33 home runs to lead the team. The Rays’ other hitters are Jesus Aguilar, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and Nate Lowe. Fans on the West Coast may not be familiar with these names, but they are the reason that the Rays won 96 games this season.

The A’s won the season series four games to three. The Rays are a very determined team. The A’s are also highly motivated to move to the ALDS. This will be the A’s third Wild Card game since 2014, and the first-ever in Oakland. The A’s lost a wild one 9-8 to the Kansas City Royals in 2014. They fell to the Yankees last year 7-2 in New York. The A’s believe that they can go to the World Series. The first step will be defeating the Rays. The Houston Astros are hoping the A’s win. They won the season series 11-8. The Astros have to be careful about what they wish for. The A’s won six of the last eight played. They have the confidence to do it.

The game with the Rays should be very close. The Rays do not quit. Neither do the A’s. Each team knows that they have to win or go home. The A’s will have a large crowd cheering their every move. Let’s hope the home field advantage will prove beneficial to Oakland. I think the A’s will prevail and win by a score of 5-3.

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