Rays at Athletics AL Wild Card Pick for October 2

By Taylor Smith in MLB on October 1, 2019

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Minute Read

The Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays both have records that would be good enough to win a division in most years. However, with three teams in the American League having topped 100 wins during the regular season, Oakland and Tampa Bay were left with the Wild Card spots after winning 97 and 96 games, respectively. It’s an unfortunate circumstance for both teams, especially the ones that must go home before the beginning of the ALDS. A one-game playoff is a pretty cruel fate.

Regardless, we should have what amounts to an excellent matchup on Wednesday night in the Bay Area. Right-hander Charlie Morton is already slated to take the ball for the visitors. The A’s have yet to announce a starting pitcher at the time of this writing. Some believe Sean Manaea should be the one to get the call, while Mike Fiers is another possibility. Frankie Montas is arguably the ace of the staff, but he is ineligible for the postseason this year after having been suspended 80 games for PEDs back in June.

Regardless of who takes the ball, it looks as though the Athletics will be the betting favorites for the winner-take-all contest. On betting sites that offer baseball odds, Oakland is listed as a -140 moneyline favorite, while Morton and the Rays are priced at +120. The game has a low 7 ½ implied run total, as well.

Betting Data Rays  A’s
2019 Straight-Up 96-66 97-65
2019 Home 48-33 52-27
2019 Away 48-33 45-38
2019 ATR 80-82 91-71
2019 ATR Home 36-45 42-37
2019 ATR Away 44-37 49-34
2019 O/U 78-75-9 71-88-3
2019 O/U Home 40-34-7 35-42-2
2019 O/U Away 38-41-2 36-46-1

Morton’s Dominance

Morton was one of the more unheralded free agent signings of last winter. The right-hander had just enjoyed a couple of stellar bounce-back seasons in Houston, but the Rays still managed to nab him on a two-year deal for only $30 million. Since then, the 35-year-old has gone on to pitch his way into legitimate AL Cy Young contention. Morton will almost surely lose the award at the hands of one of his former teammates – either Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander. But, his first year in Tampa has been an unquestioned success.

Morton went 16-6 across 33 regular season starts with a 3.05 ERA. His 3.54 SIERA is still excellent, and he also posted a strikeout rate north of 30 percent, which was one of the best marks in the American League. Morton cut his walk rate by 2 percent compared to 2018 with the Astros, and he allowed just 15 home runs all year.

Morton has been dominant in general, but his numbers are even more eye-popping against right-handed hitters. Morton has held righties to a wOBA of just .247 with just four home runs all year long. He has also induced ground balls at a 53.4 percent clip against RHBs. While he has allowed more power and fewer ground balls to lefties, his strikeout rate is higher against opposite-handed hitters. Morton’s K-rate is over 33 percent against lefties compared to about 27 percent against righties.

While the Athletics certainly have a potent lineup, it’s also heavy on right-handed bats. Other than Matt Olson, just about all, the A’s best hitters swing it from the right side. So, Morton will have the platoon advantage against Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Khris Davis, Mark Canha and Stephen Piscotty. Morton certainly won’t pitch the entire game. However, manager Kevin Cash will surely play matchups once he does come out of the game with arguably the best bullpen in baseball.

A’s Surge

It has been a very long time since the A’s won a winner-take-all playoff game. Oakland hasn’t won a decisive game in the playoffs since way back in 1973. They nabbed one of the AL’s Wild Card spots last season, only to eventually lose at the hands of the Yankees in the Wild Card Game.

Oakland went with a bullpen game in this game last year. Liam Hendriks opened and gave up two runs on two hits in his one inning of work. He was eventually slapped with the loss despite pitching just a single inning. Bob Melvin brought in Lou Trivino, Shawn Kelley, Fernando Rodney, Blake Treinen and Jeurys Familia after Hendriks came out of the game. Here’s a fun fact: Hendriks is the only pitcher left that will be available for this game for the A’s. Trivino and Treinen are both currently injured, Kelley is a Ranger, Rodney is a National, and Familia is a Met.

It seems likely that we get a traditional starter from Oakland in this one, with Manaea being the clear frontrunner. The left-hander missed most of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of last season. The left-hander went 4-0 across five starts for the A’s during the stretch run. He posted a 1.21 ERA in that time alongside a solid 3.86 SIERA. Manaea’s 27.5 percent strikeout rate is quite a bit higher than his career rate of around 19 percent. So, I’d expect some regression in that regard moving forward.

Starting a lefty would also be prudent considering many of Tampa Bay’s most fearsome hitters swing it from the left side. Manaea would have the platoon advantage against Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe, among others.

The Pick

I like the value you can get with betting on Tampa Bay as an underdog. Morton is the best pitcher in this game, regardless of who the A’s decide to run out there. The fact that he has been utterly dominant against right-handed hitters plays right into the matchup with the righty-heavy Athletics lineup. Morton made two starts against the A’s during the regular season, and he went 1-0 with a 0.68 ERA across 13.1 innings of work. He struck out 13 while allowing just one run.

I’ll take the value on the Rays’ moneyline. Road teams have had decent success in Wild Card Games in the past. These teams are evenly matched enough to where I don’t mind taking a shot on underdog betting.

Pick: Rays SU
+120

$100 could win you

$220
Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with Panoramacity since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, but he’s willing to take one for the team on that front every now and then.

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