Rays manager Kevin Cash acknowledged that a couple of key roster decisions will be made now that the A's have announced their starting pitcher, Sean Manaea, for Wednesday’s AL Wild Card Game.
“Their pitching, those guys are electric,” Cash said. “I know that we have our hands full. ... It’s going to be a very interesting game and how it’s managed.”
We know that the Rays will be starting Charlie Morton, and A’s manager Bob Melvin decided on Tuesday to tab Manaea for the start. Now we can try to predict what the Rays are going to do with their starting lineup and the rest of their bench.
Manaea has been lights out since being activated at the beginning of September. The left-hander missed the first five months of the season as he healed his left shoulder after undergoing arthroscopic surgery last September, but he’s made the sixth month count, going 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in five starts.
Let’s take a look at potential lineup options the Rays could make now that they know Manaea will be on the hill:
When you look at the season numbers, it’s no surprise that Manaea has been tough on both right-handed hitters and lefties this season. The left-hander is actually holding right-handed hitters to a .129 clip, but that’s a small sample size of just 69 plate appearances. In 2018, Manaea was tough on either side of the plate but righties found a little more success, finishing the year with a .673 OPS as opposed to the .627 clip for the lefties. The one glaring difference in 2018 was that right-handers hit 19 home runs off Manaea, while left-handed hitters hit just two in 133 plate appearances.
With Manaea starting, there’s a good chance that the Rays will trot out as many right-handed-hitting options as they can. Austin Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier and one of Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe would be the three left-handed options in the Rays lineup. Ji-Man Choi, who has been on a tear lately, would also be an option but could serve as a late-game option once there is a right-hander on the mound.
With three lefties likely to be in the lineup -- with the potential of a fourth -- the Rays would then have six spots left with a plethora of options at their disposal. Tommy Pham, Willy Adames and Travis d'Arnaud are locks to be in the lineup, and then it gets tricky. Avisaíl García -- who finished the season on a nine-game hitting streak -- is also an option, but if he serves as the team’s designated hitter it would eliminate Yandy Díaz from the lineup, who is still not ready to play third base. Matt Duffy would likely get the nod at third base with Manaea starting, and Jesús Aguilar could also play a role and get the start at first base ahead of Choi.
Whichever way the Rays decide to construct the lineup, facing Manaea will be a new challenge for most of the Tampa Bay hitters. Only seven players on the active roster have faced Manaea, and only two have more than six at-bats against the lefty. Guillermo Heredia leads the way with 20 at-bats, Mike Zunino has 12 and d’Arnaud has gone 2-for-2 against Manaea.