SEATTLE -- After Saturday night’s victory over the Mariners clinched home-field advantage for the A’s in the American League Wild Card Game, speculation ran rampant as to who they would start on the mound for Wednesday's winner-take-all matchup.
The suspense will carry on for a couple more days.
With Oakland’s regular season coming to a close on Sunday with a 3-1 loss to Seattle at T-Mobile Park, manager Bob Melvin chose to hold off on announcing a starter until the A’s hold their team workout Tuesday afternoon at the Coliseum, a day before the Wild Card Game against the Rays.
What is known to this point is that right-hander Mike Fiers and left-hander Sean Manaea are the two candidates to start. The A’s strategically set up each pitcher’s final two outings of the regular season to keep both well-rested for Wednesday, with Fiers last pitching on Friday and Manaea on Thursday.
Here’s a look at each A’s option for the AL Wild Card Game and some of the pros and cons for each pitcher.
The case for Fiers has been built up on the strength of what has been a strong final five months of the season. His 3.21 ERA since April 26 is fifth lowest among AL starters. With the game being played at the Coliseum, Fiers has another factor working in his favor.
Fiers went 9-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 17 starts at the Coliseum this year, capping off a stellar home campaign. The spacious outfield and foul ground in Oakland make the ballpark a paradise for Fiers, whose 38.8 fly-ball percentage this season was eighth highest among AL starters.
So, what’s holding the A’s back from just giving the start to Fiers? Well, he hasn’t exactly been sharp over the last month.
The right-hander faced the minimum over eight scoreless innings in his final regular-season home start against the Rangers on Sept. 20, but his previous three starts were his worst of the season, posting an 18.78 ERA over the outings, and he left one of them with an injury scare when he experienced nerve irritation in his right arm. His final start of the regular season Friday night in Seattle was solid, as he limited the Mariners to two runs over five innings, but his command wasn’t quite as sharp as usual, with 62 of his 102 pitches thrown for strikes.
When you look at Manaea’s case, it’s hard not to be impressed.
Returning from shoulder surgery that kept him out since Aug. 24, 2018, Manaea has been dominant over five starts. The lefty has allowed only four earned runs over 29 2/3 innings (1.21 ERA) with a 30-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
In this age of analytic-driven data, the numbers support Manaea against a Rays lineup that features mostly top left-handed hitters. Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe carry significantly lower wRC+ against left-handed pitchers, while Ji-Man Choi is batting only .210 against lefties as opposed to .274 vs. right-handers.
How both have fared against the Rays
Fiers pitched well in two starts against the Rays, limiting them to three runs over 12 innings. The A’s won both of those games.
Manaea has not faced the Rays this season, making him a bit of an unknown, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how the A’s front office views things. It has been a small sample size for Manaea, but he could not have pitched much better than how he has lately.
Whether it is Fiers or Manaea starting, the A’s appear to be in good hands as they look to potentially get five or six quality innings.
A’s reach milestones in regular-season finale
Marcus Semien was given an at-bat to lead off Sunday’s game before being pulled, allowing him to have played in all 162 games this season. It’s a supreme showing of durability for the A’s shortstop, but the value goes beyond the ability to play every day for Melvin, who believes Semien deserves to finish among the top three players in AL MVP Award voting.
“You can start with the 162, and then you go to the position he plays, and he never looks rundown,” Melvin said. “He’s been consistent all year and never really gone through a prolonged slump on offense or defense. Then, you get into the numbers and you’re talking about historic stuff from the leadoff spot.
“At some time, he’ll have a little perspective about it. But he does not want to talk about it right now. Just miraculous numbers. I don’t know that, across the board, you see numbers like that from a leadoff guy.”
Reliever Yusmeiro Petit made his 80th appearance of the year, most among AL pitchers and the third most in a season in A’s history. He's the first Oakland pitcher to reach the milestone since John Wyatt in 1964.
“To get to 80 this year with a sub-2.50 ERA, he comes in with guys on base all the time, can pitch three days in a row, there are very few guys like him in the league,” Melvin said. “We’re lucky to have him and have seen him do it successfully for two years now.”