After finishing the regular season within a game of one another, the Tampa Bay Rays trekked westward to Oakland, where they will face the Athletics in the AL Wildcard game, on Wednesday. The Rays dropped the final two games of their regular season schedule to the Blue Jays, while the Athletics are coming off a series split against the Mariners.
The Rays are playing postseason baseball for the first time in six years, while the Athletics find themselves in the exact same spot as a season ago — winners of 97 games and needing to win a one-game series in order to move on to the ALDS. Last season Oakland fell to the Yankees 7-2.
Tampa Bay boasts one player from the 2013 roster, Kevin Kiermaier, yet, the Rays have a handful of players with playoff experience elsewhere, namely Tommy Pham, Eric Sogard, Jesus Aguilar, Matt Duffy, Emilio Pagan, and Charlie Morton. The young core of players also has a ton of experience with postseason play at the minor league level. Even though that experience may not necessarily be equitable in the apples-to-apples sense, it does count for something.
Both teams have sputtered somewhat in the final two weeks of the season, having performed from 5% to 7% under league average (a 95 wRC+ vs a 93 wRC+ respectfully). Still, the Rays have outperformed the slugging Athletics in almost every offensive category over that stretch, including ISO (.182 vs .156) and SLG (.421 vs .387). What is concerning, however, is Tampa Bay’s 30% strikeout rate over the last 14 days.
While the Athletics have a lot of pop from top to bottom — seven batters have hit at least 20 home runs, while three have topped the 30-homer mark — Oakland plays in one of the most unfriendly ballparks in the league as it relates to the long ball. According to ESPN’s MLB Park Factors, Oakland Coliseum is the 26th least home run friendly ballpark in baseball (Tropicana Field is 19th).
In Tampa Bay’s favor, Charlie Morton, who boasts a 10.4% HR/FB, will be on the mound on Wednesday. As Jim Turvey (DRaysBay) noted, “…of the 62 qualified starting pitchers in baseball in 2019, no one had a lower HR/9 rate than Charlie Morton. Mike Soroka tied with Morton atop the standings, allowing just 0.69 home runs per nine innings.” If Morton can keep the Athletics in the ballpark, as he did against the Yankees in his final regular-season tuneup, the Rays will have a great shot of playing beyond Wednesday. More on #CFM below.
Tampa Bay dropped the season series against Oakland three games to four, however, the Rays posted a four-run differential against the Athletics this season.
Kevin Cash will throw Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) in the one-game set. He’ll be opposed by left-hander Sean Manaea (4-0, 1.21 ERA).
Charlie Morton allowed one hit and three walks across six scoreless frames while striking out nine Yankees on Wednesday. The hit — a two-out single by DJ LeMahieu in the sixth inning — was the only one given up by the Rays staff on the night. Morton ended the regular season with career-best performances across the board: a 3.05 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and a 4.21 K/BB over 194-2/3 innings. Over his career against Oakland, Morton is 2-1 with a 2.97 ERA in seven starts (39-1/3 innings). He is 0-1 with a 1.65 ERA in three career starts at Oakland Coliseum.
Sean Manaea gave up one run on four hits and no walks while striking out five across six innings in his last start. The left-hander was in complete control throughout, tossing 54 of 82 pitches for strikes (66% strike rate). Manaea has won each of his last four outings and carries a pristine 1.21 ERA and 0.78 WHIP across five starts into the postseason. The left-hander relies primarily on a whiffy 90 mph four-seam fastball with heavy sinking action and an 80 mph worm-killer slider with 12-6 movement, while also mixing in an 81 mph changeup that dives down out of the zone. He is 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay (20 innings). Key Matchups: Travis d’Arnaud (2-2, RBI), Avisail Garcia (1-3), Guillermo Heredia (5-20, 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-3)
— Looking for somewhere to watch the ballgame? Join us at Old Northeast Tavern! You can find out more information below.
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We’ll be watching the AL Wildcard game at @old.northeast.tavern on Wednesday, which is located at 201 7th Ave N, in St. Pete. The tavern has a large projection screen TV in the backroom and an extensive menu with a long list of beers. You can also grab slices of pizza next door at Old NE Pizza. #RaysUp #RaysSpex #OldNorthEastTavern #ALWildcardGame2019
— Just a reminder of what kind of owner Stu Sternberg is.
Stu didn’t push for any team signage around St. Petersburg (unlike the Bucs (pictured above is an example of the Bucs presence around the city), nor did he or the Rays set up any official watch parties akin to Jeff Vinic’s Lightning postseason bashes outside of Amalie Arena.
Adding insult to injury, according to Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), he secured tickets for Stephen Bronfman at the game itself, in Oakland. There is no word whether he extended a similar invitation to any Pinellas or Hillsborough County officials. What a piece of work!
I get it, he’s publicly flirting with Bronfman in order to strike panic in St. Petersburg city officials. And this is the type of attention he is seeking, so I played right into the hands of the liberal version of Donald Trump. But still, now is neither the time nor the place.
I love this team and will support them, but seriously, fuck Stu Sternberg.