Tampa Bay Rays (96-66) @ Oakland Athletics (97-65)
Game 1- Wednesday, October 2nd at 8 PM ET, ESPN
Starters- Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) for Tampa Bay vs. TBA for Oakland
This game features two teams that are victims of their divisions. Both flirted with 100 wins but will be left to play the Wild Card due to their division winners, the Astros and Yankees, winning over 100 games. As of this writing, Oakland has not yet announced a starter, but it’s safe to say it will be one of Sean Manaea or Mike Fiers.
Manaea made only five starts in 2019 after he opened the season on the 60 day IL after having surgery on his throwing shoulder. In those five games, the lefty went 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 30 strikeouts over 29 2/3 innings. Fiers, on the other hand, made 33 starts and went 15-4 with a 3.90 ERA. Unlike Manaea, Fiers has postseason experience, albeit only 1 IP way back in 2015 with the Astros.
The A’s lineup has two big sluggers at the corner infield spots. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson each individually hit 36 home runs and had 91 RBIs. Ramon Laureano plays a Gold Glove caliber center field and hit .288/.345/.508 with 24 home runs, a huge jump from the 5 homers he hit in 2018 as a rookie.
Player to watch- A.J. Puk
Puk was the sixth overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft and made his debut on August 20th. The left hander went 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA in 10 appearances out of the bullpen. The 24 year old Puk may be asked to come into a high leverage situation despite his lack of MLB experience, a la David Price in 2008.
The Tampa Bay Rays once again find themselves in a postseason game despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. Charlie Morton takes the mound for Tampa, and brings seven starts of postseason experience, albeit with a 4.60 ERA. However, he had the A’s number in 2019, allowing just one run in over 13 innings pitched.
Tampa’s offense does not feature any household names and finished middle of the pack (16th) in runs scored. Right fielder Austin Meadows is one of their best hitters. The former Pirates top prospect who was sent to Tampa in the Chris Archer trade, hit .291 with 33 home runs and a .922 OPS this season despite spending a little under a month on the IL with a thumb sprain.
The strength of the Rays lies in their pitching, especially their bullpen which lead the majors in bullpen ERA at 3.71. Rays relievers stranded over 74% of inherited runners and had a strikeouts per nine of 9.62. The unit as a whole led the majors in total relief wins above replacement with 7.6.
Player to watch- Emilio Pagan
Pagan has been one of the best relievers in a strong ‘pen. The right-hander has a 2.31 ERA over 70 innings scattered across 66 appearances. He has an eye-popping 96/13 strikeout to walk ratio and a .170 batting average against.