The American League has its version of do-or-die on Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Rays head west to play the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game. The Rays finished second in the American League East behind the New York Yankees with a 96-66 record, just one game behind the Athletics, who were the runner-up in the American League West.
Oakland is familiar with this format, as its last two playoff appearances were in the Wild Card Game, with the Athletics coming up short each time. The Yankees beat Oakland last season while the Royals topped the Athletics in 2014, though Oakland was the road team in each of those contests. Tampa Bay is back in the postseason for the first time since 2013, when they won the Wild Card Game over Cleveland before falling in the division series to Boston.
The moneyline for this contest has the Tampa Bay Rays +130 and the Oakland Athletics -140. The over/under for the game has been set at 8.
No Stranger To The Postseason
Although the Rays haven’t been in the playoffs recently, their starter for Wednesday’s game, Charlie Morton is in his third straight postseason. The 35-year-old right-hander was with Houston the last two seasons, making five starts and six appearances overall in the postseason, including going 2-1 during the Astros’ run to the title in 2017. This season, Morton went 16-6 with a 3.05 ERA, and his 240 strikeouts ranked fifth in the American League. He’s coming off a win over the Yankees last week in which he threw six innings of one-hit ball, striking out nine.
Tampa Bay has been up and down offensively over the last week or so, though they’ve been doing just enough to win, coming into this game having taken seven of their last 10. Austin Meadows leads Tampa Bay in batting average (.291), home runs (33) and RBI (89), and he was especially hot in September, finishing with a .378 batting average with nine home runs and 20 RBI. The Rays would like to see Tommy Pham get going, as he ranks in the top 10 in the American League in both walks (seventh with 81) and stolen bases (fourth with 25).
Riding The Wave
The Athletics will go with their hottest pitcher for this contest, with left-hander Sean Manaea getting the start. Manaea has only made five starts in 2019 after returning from offseason shoulder surgery, but he’s 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in those contests. Manaea has allowed just 16 hits in his 29 1/3 innings of work while striking out 30. He’s won his last four starts, including a six-inning stint against Seattle in which he gave up four hits and one earned run last Thursday.
The Athletics have a number of big hitters in their lineup, with three players — Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Marcus Semien — each hitting over 30 home runs this season. Semien put it together in September, hitting .347 with eight home runs and 19 RBI, while Olson tied for the team home run lead with Chapman, hitting 36 home runs in just 127 games played. Oakland will be looking for a better showing than last season, when they had just five hits and didn’t score until the eighth inning in their 7-2 loss to New York in the Wild Card Game.
Athletics Get The Win
Oakland won the regular-season series between these two teams, 4-3, though they last met in late June. The Athletics don’t have the postseason experience edge on the mound, but they do have it everywhere else. Throw in the fact that they’ll be playing at home, and that’s enough to give them the slight edge over the Rays in what should be a close ballgame the whole way. I’ve got to go with Oakland -140 to advance to face the Astros.