Burning questions for Rays-A’s AL Wild Card Game

By Vincent Frank
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics will host their first playoff game in eons Wednesday evening when they take on the similarly surprising Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card Game.

The winner of this outing has the pleasure of taking on the World Series favorite Houston Astros in the divisional round.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s look at five burning questions for Wednesday night’s do-or-die game at the Oakland Coliseum.

How will the A’s use their young pitchers?

Oakland has a vast amount wealth heading into this game. That’s primarily true when we look at young pitchers Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk, the organization’s top-two prospects heading into the season.

Both were late-season call-ups and have been absolutely tremendous in relief roles.

  • Luzardo: Six appearances, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 12.0 K/9
  • Puk: 10 appearances, 3.18 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 10.3 K/9

Luzardo and Puk project as top-end starters moving forward in their careers. They’ll both be used out of the bullpen in this year’s playoffs.

While Puk could be limited to matchup-based appearances against fellow lefties, Luzardo will be extended. He pitched multiple innings in four of his six appearances during the regular year.

That’s where Luzardo could come in handy here. He could act as a dominating mid-to-late inning bridge between Sean Manaea and closer Liam Hendriks. It will be interesting to see how both are used.

Will Kevin Cash have a quick hook with Charlie Morton?

We’re not terribly surprised to see Tampa Bay go with this veteran over reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell or the dominant Tyler Glasnow. Each of those two pitchers will be innings limited during the playoffs.

However, Morton is the lesser of the three pitchers. Could this lead to a quick hook from Cash? We’re talking about a win or go home game. Neither team can be thinking about Game 1 of the ALDS on Friday. That could lead to Tampa Bay getting both Snell and Glasnow into this game should Morton struggle early.

For his part, Morton pitched six innings or less in 19 of his 33 regular-season starts. That could also factor into what Cash does some Wednesday night.

Can Austin Meadows break through against Sean Manaea?

This is almost literally the multi-million dollar question heading into Wednesday’s elimination game. A first-time All-Star this season, Meadows posted a .275 average and mere .316 on-base percentage against lefties during the regular season. Compare that to a .298/.384 split against righties, and this has to be of concern for Tampa Bay.

For his part, Manaea has been absolutely dominant since returning from a near season-long surgery. He’s posted a 4-0 record with a 1.21 ERA and 0.78 WHIP while striking out more than one batter per inning.

This specific matchup is more than interesting in that Manaea yielded a .236 average and a .270 BAbip against lefties in a much larger sample size last season. Traditionally, he’s also been better on the road than at home.

Can Matt Chapman continue late-season tear?

This All-Star was among the worst hitting position players in the months following the midsummer break. Chapman hit .202 with a .303 on-base percentage while driving in 27 runs in 51 games between July 16 through Sept. 12. While he hasn’t hit for a much higher average recently, the game’s best young third baseman has four homers with 10 RBI in his past 13 games.

Chapman will need to get that opportunistic hit Wednesday against the Rays. Whether it comes against a starter in Morton or the plethora of relievers Cash can throw out there, Oakland is relying as much on Chapman’s hitting as his elite defensive play at third.

Will home-field advantage play a role?

The A’s have decided to take the tarps off the upper deck at Oakland Coliseum for Wednesday’s game. This means we can expect about 50,000 fans on hand. Given that this is a great home-field advantage with much smaller crowd numbers, that should give the Athletics an upper-hand.

Bob Melvin’s squad finished with a 52-29 record at home during the regular year, good enough for the fourth-best mark in baseball. Tampa Bay boasted a tremendous 48-33 record on the road. It is also 5-3 in Oakland over the past two seasons. The home-field advantage these A’s worked so hard to obtain might not be as massive as we initially anticipated.