The American League Wild Card Game presents an intriguing contest between the Rays and A's, two clubs that have found success through a keen eye on analytics and relying on leverage matchups as part of their strategy to win games.
Since June 16, the A’s compiled the best record in the Majors, capped by a strong September that saw them go 18-8 -- their highest win total for any month this season. The Rays gave the A’s all they could handle in a race to determine home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game, ultimately falling short despite winning seven of their final 10 games.
But the A's have lost eight straight winner-take-all postseason games, including five at home. Both streaks are postseason records, as Oakland hosts Tampa Bay tonight at the Coliseum.
What are the starting lineups?
Rays: Since the A's went with starter Sean Manaea, here's Tampa Bay's lineup behind Charlie Morton.
1) Yandy Díaz, 1B
2) Tommy Pham, DH
3) Austin Meadows, LF
4) Travis d'Arnaud, C
5) Matt Duffy, 3B
6) Avisaíl García, RF
7) Willy Adames, SS
8) Kevin Kiermaier, CF
9) Michael Brosseau, 2B
A’s: The A’s opted for Robbie Grossman over Seth Brown in left field, and Jurickson Profar instead of Sheldon Neuse at second base. Here's Oakland's lineup.
1) Marcus Semien, SS
2) Ramón Laureano, RF
3) Matt Chapman, 3B
4) Matt Olson, 1B
5) Mark Canha, CF
6) Jurickson Profar, 2B
7) Khris Davis, DH
8) Robbie Grossman, LF
9) Sean Murphy, C
What do the rosters look like?
Rays: Tampa Bay opted for 10 pitchers, including reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, and slugging infielder Yandy Díaz made the cut after returning from a injury layoff in the Rays' regular-season finale. Utility man Eric Sogard, who hasn’t played since Sept. 15 with a right foot injury, was not included. With the Rays expecting a heavy dose of left-handed pitching on Wednesday, lefty hitters Nate Lowe and Brendan McKay were left off the roster.
• Rays announce AL Wild Card Game roster
Pitchers (10): Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, Oliver Drake, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton, Emilio Pagán, Colin Poche, Chaz Roe, Blake Snell, Ryan Yarbrough
Catchers (2): Travis d’Arnaud, Mike Zunino
Infielders (9): Willy Adames, Jesús Aguilar, Mike Brosseau, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Díaz, Matt Duffy, Brandon Lowe, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle
Outfielders (4): Avisaíl García, Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham
A's: The A's know the several different looks the Rays might throw at them on Wednesday, so they’ve constructed their roster in a way to help combat the many possibilities. For the second year in a row, Oakland’s one-game playoff roster features 11 pitchers and 14 position players.
• A's announce Wild Card Game roster
Pitchers (11): Chris Bassitt, Ryan Buchter, Jake Diekman, Mike Fiers, Liam Hendriks, Jesús Luzardo, Sean Manaea, Yusmeiro Petit, A.J. Puk, Joakim Soria, J.B. Wendelken
Catchers (2): Sean Murphy, Josh Phegley
Infielders (5): Matt Chapman, Sheldon Neuse, Matt Olson, Jurickson Profar, Marcus Semien
Outfielders (5): Seth Brown, Mark Canha, Robbie Grossman, Ramón Laureano, Chad Pinder
Designated hitter: Khris Davis
Utility: Franklin Barreto
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rays: There was no surprise when Cash announced that Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) would be his starter for tonight’s game. Morton made 33 starts for the Rays this season and was the most consistent pitcher on the roster, finishing with a 6.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He also brings the experience that the Rays desperately wanted when they signed him to a club record two-year, $30 million deal in the offseason.
Morton has also had success against Oakland over the last two seasons. In 2018, as a member of the Astros, Morton made three starts against the A’s, posting a 3.86 ERA over 14 innings. He was even more successful in '19 with the Rays, holding the A's to just one run over 13 1/3 innings.
A’s: Melvin named Manaea as his starter for the AL Wild Card Game, opting for the left-hander over Mike Fiers. Manaea completed the regular season 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA, allowing only four earned runs over 29 2/3 innings with a 30-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Having last pitched on Thursday against the Mariners, Manaea will also enter tonight on extra rest.
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How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rays: If Morton is able to give the Rays five or six quality innings and if the offense can get some early runs on the board, this is where Tampa Bay believes it has an advantage. The combination of Castillo, Roe, Drake and Poche can navigate through the middle innings, and then the Rays will turn it over to Anderson and Pagán to shut the door in the late innings.
Another possibility would be to ask Yarbrough or Glasnow to come in and get a couple of big outs. In a perfect world, the Rays save Glasnow for Game 1 of the AL Division Series, but they’re fully aware that they need to get there first, so expect them to pull out all the stops.
A’s: In a perfect scenario, the A’s would get five or six quality innings from Manaea before handing it off to rookie sensation Luzardo as the bridge to closer Hendriks. Should things get a little tricky along the way, Petit would likely enter at some point in the later innings to get out of a jam, which has been his specialty, as he led the AL with 46 inherited runners stranded. Melvin also won’t be afraid to go to rookie Puk for an inning or a matchup against a left-handed bat.
With Luzardo, Puk and Bassitt all available to throw multiple innings out of the bullpen, another starter is not exactly a necessity. The A’s would like to save Fiers for Game 1 of the ALDS in Houston, but as seen often in these winner-take-all games, it might be all hands on deck for the A’s pitching staff.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Rays: The Rays won’t be able to carry all the arms that they currently have on the 40-man roster, so those will be interesting decisions. But they’ll have the entire allotment to pick from since nobody has any lingering injury heading into tonight’s game.
A’s: Blake Treinen and Lou Trivino are out with season-ending injuries, which made some potential tough decisions in the bullpen a little easier. The A’s should be able to get every reliever they feel best suited to pitch in this game on the roster.
Any injuries of note?
Rays: Sogard’s deep bone bruise has been concerning for the Rays over the last three weeks. The former Athletic said his right foot is progressing to the point where he could be available tonight, but he hasn’t seen live pitching since a pinch-hit appearance on Sept. 15.
A’s: Aside from the normal wear and tear over the course of the season, the A’s remain relatively healthy entering tonight. Laureano’s right shin injury that kept him out 32 games has been monitored closely with planned days off here and there, but he’ll likely be unleashed as a full-go in October.
Stephen Piscotty (right ankle sprain) returned on Sunday for his first game since Aug. 24 and appeared to have no limitations as he played in right field. His spot on the Wild Card roster is not a lock, however, and he’d likely start the game on the bench as a pinch-hit option were he to make it.
Who is hot and who is not?
Rays: Meadows hit nine home runs and posted a 1.216 OPS in 24 September games en route to an AL Player of the Month honor. Tampa Bay's offense usually goes as Meadows goes, so he’ll play a key part tonight. Choi also had a good September, knocking six home runs in 22 games. On the other hand, d’Arnaud has just three homers over the last two months of the season after belting 13 in June and July. Despite some of his struggles, he’ll be leaned on heavily as he has been one of Tampa Bay's most clutch players.
A’s: Semien has established himself as a legit AL MVP Award candidate, and a lot of that has to do with how he closed out his regular season. Semien’s month of September was his strongest, with eight home runs and a 1.134 OPS through 26 games. The A’s have counted on Semien to provide a spark on offense, and he’ll look to keep that going as their leadoff man tonight. Olson also finished strong with nine homers in 25 September games.
Chapman went through his longest slump of the season by batting .178 in September, but signs of a turnaround were clear over the final week, as he went 9-for-29 (.310) with two home runs and six RBIs over his last seven games. Coming up with many of the club’s biggest hits throughout the year, Chapman is still the guy the A’s want at the plate in a close game.
Anything else fans might want to know?
The A’s have scored two runs or fewer in each of their last four postseason games at the Oakland Coliseum.
Thanks to fan response, the A's will wear their kelly green uniforms in the AL Wild Card Game.
Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.