Talk of low payrolls and stadium issues will be afterthoughts when MC Hammer throws out the first pitch before Wednesday’s American League Wild Card tilt between the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics at 8:09 P.M. EST. Both teams created necessary distance between themselves and Cleveland to take a bit of a breath in the season’s final days. The reward for winning Wednesday is a date Friday night with the best team in the MLB the Houston Astros.
Oakland just announced yesterday that it will be the lefty Sean Manaea getting the start, who will be on an extra day’s rest after throwing in Seattle on Thursday. Tampa Bay announced early that righty Charlie Morton will take the ball.
Morton is a Cy Young candidate having a career year despite losing a few ticks off his fastball. Expect to see a lot of curveballs from him as it’s his best pitch, especially against lefties. Between the quality of Morton’s stuff, the year he has had, and the extra rest leading up to this start, things might be set up for him to coil around Oakland’s lineup.
Manaea had shoulder surgery last fall and only made 13 starts this year between his rehab outings, and his five September big league appearances. Those five starts were strong — 29.2 innings, 30 strikeouts, just 16 hits and 7 walks — despite depressed velocity. Manaea’s velo has been slowly declining since his 2016 debut season and it continues to do so coming off surgery, and trended downward over the course of his five big league starts. Curiously, Manaea’s pitch usage has changed pretty dramatically. It’s possible five starts is too small a sample to identify a real change in his approach to out-getting, but his fastball and slider usage are up compared to career norms, while his change-up (his best pitch) usage has been halved.
The reason Oakland took so long in naming a starter likely has to do with Tampa Bay’s desire to tailor their roster in a way that enables them to play matchups with some combination of in-game platoon tactics, or an extreme shift toward run scoring or prevention if the game state dictates it. With Manaea likely starting and Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen shelved due to injury, Oakland has a very left-handed staff. That increases the chances we see righty-hitting Jesus Aguilar, the recently activated Yandy Díaz, versatile Michael Brosseau, Guillermo Heredia, and Daniel Robertson all on the roster and in the game.