Last night's game was an absolute treat for anyone who isn't a Milwaukee Brewers fan. It brought all the excitement that you'd expect out of a wild card game, and was a battle from start to finish. The game perfectly set the stage for tonight's matchup between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics.
The A's may not hit for a great average compared to some teams in the postseason, but they have some serious pop in their lineup. They have seven different players that hit more than 20 home runs this season, three of which hit more than 30.
Maybe the biggest power threat of them all, Matt Olson, managed to hit 36 home runs, while driving in 91 in just 127 games played. Slotting him behind team star Matt Chapman will give them a solid three-four in the middle of the lineup.
The problem the A's have is that they can't manage to get guys on base for these big power bats. Despite the fact that they have three guys with 30 bombs, they didn't have one player reach 100 RBIs. Against a pitching staff like the Rays, it'll be tough to win with out manufacturing some runs.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have a very dynamic offence. Their combination of speed and power makes them a nightmare for opposing pitching. In typical Rays fashion there is no star name on the roster, but they fill their lineup with hustle guys like Tommy Pham, Asutin Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier and Matt Duffy.
One big contributor to this team in the back half of the season was Travis d'Arnaud. d'Arnaud only played 92 games for the Rays, but was a huge part of their success on both the defensive and offensive side of the game. He hit for a .263 average, while hitting 16 HRs and 61 RBI... not bad for half a season as a catcher.
While no ones numbers on the season will wow you due to a lack of games, there are plenty of talented, athletic hitters on this team that can wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
The A's have decided to go with "sophomore" lefty Sean Manaea for this one. Manaea missed most of the season recovering from surgery on his left arm limiting him to just five starts. In those five starts however, he continued his dominance over the league. He gave up just four runs in 29.2 innings in his time back. The biggest concern will be how long the A's let him go for.
If he is able to really stretch it out and go 90+ pitches, while still looking like top performance Sean Manaea, then things will go well for the Oakland A's. If he can't however, things could take a turn for the worse rather quickly.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are countering with their ace this season in Charlie Morton. In a year where Cy Young winner Blake Snell struggled a bit while also dealing with injury, Morton stepped up in a huge way.
The veteran had a career year in his first season with the Rays, finishing with a 16-6 record, tallying a 3.05 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and 240 strikeouts in 194.2 innings. He was easily the Rays best pitchers this season, and established himself as one of the premier arms in the game.
In his two games against the Athletics this season, Morton combined to go 13.1 innings, giving up just one earned run while striking out 13.
Advantage: Tampa Bay (only because of the uncertainty behind Manaea)
The A's bullpen has a number of weapons it can use against the Rays. Closer Liam Hendriks has consistently gotten better year after year and was nothing short of dominant this season. In 75 appearences this season Hendriks had an ERA of 1.80, a WHIP of 0.965, and 124 strikeouts in his 85 innings. He also earned himself his first career all star appearance.
While the pen may be based around Hendriks' success, there are a few other solid pieces in that pen. Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Butcher both have sub-3 ERAs. Jake Diekman has been in these situations many before and has been incredible at times in the postseason. And Blake Treinen, though he's struggled mightly this year, could always pull out a Blake Treinen performance.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays bullpen is a difficult one to judge. Apart from closer Emilio Pagan nobody's numbers really blow you away. Part of that may have to do with their use of an opener and the fact that they are all thrown into weird roles very often throughout the year.
Make no mistake though, this team has some live arms in that pen. They can definitely hold their own at times, and shouldn't have to do much with Morton toeing the rubber.
The Oakland A's are a really good team, and they have earned this home Wild Card game. The Rays just have the better starter on the mound and can beat you in many more ways than just hitting home runs... it's tough to bet against that.
Winner: Tampa Bay Rays