AL Wild Card Pick: Rays vs. Athletics
Tampa Bay Rays (96-66) vs. Oakland Athletics (97-65)
When: 8 p.m., Wednesday, October 2
Where: RingCentral Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
Moneyline: TB +120/OAK -130 Runline: Rays +1.5/Athletics -1.5 Total: 7.5Starting Pitchers: Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) vs. Sean Manaea (4-0, 1.21 ERA, 0.78 WHIP)
It’s safe to say that Sean Manaea has fully recovered from surgery on his left shoulder. In five starts, he’s looked good in all of them, winning four and holding the Yankees to one hit through five innings in the only game he started that the Athletics didn’t win. Manaea wasn’t supposed to pitch this year at all, but he’s ar-rived in September after a strong rehab season, and the A’s are now trusting him to throw the Wild Card Game, which they’ll be hosting this year after going to New York and losing.
But is Manaea ready for this moment? Not only was the pitcher not supposed to be on the mound this sea-son, but it’s not like he’s brimming with experience in big games. Other than the Yankees game, his starts came against Detroit, Seattle, and Texas, not exactly a murderer’s row of opponents. Plus, Manaea is in just his fourth year in the league and came from Indiana State, not a place known for producing top-quality talent or having it perform in big games. During Manaea’s college career, the Sycamores went two-and-out in both appearances in the NCAA tournament, and the best player to ever come through Indiana State is Tommy John, who never actually played for the school. There’s a serious question about whether Manaea can handle this spotlight.
Ace On the Hill
No such concern exists with Charlie Morton. Tampa Bay’s going with its ace in this one and has him rested, as Morton hasn’t pitched since Wednesday. Morton hasn’t been dominant in September, but he hasn’t had to be because the Rays have been giving him outstanding run support in every contest. Since getting blasted by his old team Houston on August 27, Morton has given up no more than six hits in a game, and the Rays have won them all, including a one-hit shutout of the Yankees in his final regular-season start.
Morton is certainly experienced at this, but the same cannot be said for the Rays. Tampa Bay hasn’t played in the postseason since 2013, and most of the Rays’ players haven’t experienced any kind of playoff pressure this season, because Tampa Bay has greeted its 96-win ballclub with apathy. The Rays are essentially outside the glare of the spotlight because their fans don’t seem to be interested, which has removed a lot of the pressure the team would otherwise face. Whether that’s a good thing here remains to be seen.
This one is no experience vs. bad experience. The Athletics are the Nationals of the American League, having lost the AL Wild Card game twice and lost Game 5 in six different ALDS, losing to the Yankees twice, the Tigers twice, the Twins and the Red Sox. You’ve got to go back to the 1973 World Series against the Mets for the last time that Oakland faced a winner-take-all situation and came out a winner. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay has been here before in 2013 when it beat Cleveland in this game, but that’s the last time the Rays have sniffed the postseason. Morton is very experienced, but he’s one of the only Rays who has been here before and knows how to handle the pressure.
The season matchup doesn’t tell you much here between these teams, as Oakland won the series 4-3, but the teams split their four games in Oakland. That includes two games against Morton, who beat the A’s in St. Petersburg and pitched six innings of one-run ball in a no-decision in Oakland that the Rays’ bullpen coughed up.
- The Rays are 1-4 in Morton’s past five road starts against a team with a winning record.
- The Athletics are 1-4 in Manaea’s past five starts against a team with a winning record.
- The Rays are 5-1 in Morton’s past six overall starts against a team with a winning record.
- The Athletics are 13-3 in their past 16 home games against a team with a winning record.
- The under is 6-0 in the Athletics’ past six games.
- The under is 4-1 in the Rays’ past five games.
Per Mark Twain, “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” An autumn night on the other side of the Bay isn’t going to be much warmer, with the temperature approaching 52 at first pitch.
In a one-game winner-take-all matchup, it’s usually best to trust the better pitcher, and when the pitchers look about equal, go with the one that’s been there before and had success. That’s Morton, who has done this with the Athletics and wants a crack at his old team in the playoffs after how badly he got hit the last time he faced Houston.
He’s got to go through Oakland to get that chance, and I think he’s going to be able to get it done. The Athlet-ics’ superb home record is a major worry, but the Rays went 2-2 in a building where the A’s were 52-29, so they aren’t going to be intimidated by the subpar facilities of the Coliseum. Give me Tampa Bay in a close one.
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