American League Wild Card Game Preview

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The Rays and A’s are going to have to put on a barn-burner to top last night’s Brewers-Nats game. Let’s see how it stacks up.

The Game: Tampa Bay Rays @ Oakland Athletics, American League Wild Card
The Time: 8:08 PM EDT
The Place: RingCentral Coliseum, Oakland, California
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Charlie Morton (Rays) vs. Sean Manaea (Athletics)

The Upshot:

Loser goes home. Winner gets the Astros. Frankly, both of those sound like awful things, but winning is probably better.

Sean Manaea missed a year with a torn labrum but he was fantastic in his five starts down the stretch, tossing 29.2 innings and allowing only four earned runs (1.21 ERA). Charlie Morton was the Rays best starter all year long, posting a 3.05 ERA with 240 strikeouts in 194.2 innings, and he dominated the A’s in two starts, allowing only one run in 13.1 innings of work.

If Morton falters, the Rays have the game’s best bullpen, at least as far as ERA and by innings pitched. Manea can be electric, but he’ll also need to go somewhat long. The Athletics finished 2019 with the fourth-best bullpen ERA in the American League, but the strength of that pen is decided on the back end, with Liam Hendricks and Yusmeiro Petit standing above the club’s middle relievers. If Manaea starts poorly or has a big pitch count early, the A’s could have trouble.

Of course, even if they have been great all year, Morton and the Rays’ pitchers don’t have an easy task here. The A’s had seven hitters smack 20 homers or more this year and they finished behind only the Twins, Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers in team home runs in all of baseball. Matts Olson and Chapman, Marcus Semein and Mark Canha will be difficult to pitch to. Not so much the Rays’ lineup, at least relatively speaking. Tampa Bay had four hitters with 20 or more homers this year but only one — Austin Meadows — hit more than 21.  Overall the Rays offense is the worst among AL playoff teams but a fairly large margin. They’re going to want a low-scoring game as opposed to trading blows with the A’s.

If you care about momentum, know that both teams finished the season strong, with the Rays going 20-8 to close out the season while Oakland went 18-7 in their last 25. I’m not a big fan of momentum, especially in a single-game playoff, but I throw it out there.

If you care about narratives, be prepared to hear all manner of chatter about the low payrolls and forward-thinking front offices of these two clubs. Drink every time you hear the word “Moneyball” even though there’s nothing new or even useful about the concept as people like ESPN announcers usually discuss it. Drink every time you “Tropicana Field,” or “attendance” or “small market” even if the game is in Oakland.

Wait, don’t. I don’t want anyone to die of alcohol poisoning tonight.

How about this: sit back and get to know some players you may not know very well unless you’re already a fan of this team. Meadows, Tommy Pham, and Ji-Man Choi. Chapman, Olson and Semien. Emilio Pagán. Chuck all the stuff you think you know about the A’s and Rays based on vague talk of payrolls and baseball business and sit back and enjoy two of the best teams in the game.

Then watch the Astros chew ’em up over the following week. But we’ll get to that later.

MLBPA proposes 114-game season, playoff expansion to MLB

LG Patterson/MLB via Getty Images
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ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the Major League Baseball Players Association has submitted a proposal to the league concerning the 2020 season. The proposal includes a 114-game season with an end date on October 31, playoff expansion for two years, the right for players to opt out of the season, and a potential deferral of 2020 salaries if the postseason were to be canceled.

Passan clarifies that among the players who choose to opt out, only those that are considered “high risk” would still receive their salaries. The others would simply receive service time. The union also proposed that the players receive a non-refundable $100 million sum advance during what would essentially be Spring Training 2.

If the regular season were to begin in early July, as has often been mentioned as the target, that would give the league four months to cram in 114 games. There would have to be occasional double-headers, or the players would have to be okay with few off-days. Nothing has been mentioned about division realignment or a geographically-oriented schedule, but those could potentially ease some of the burden.

Last week, the owners made their proposal to the union, suggesting a “sliding scale” salary structure. The union did not like that suggestion. Players were very vocal about it, including on social media as Max Scherzer — one of eight players on the union’s executive subcommittee — made a public statement. The owners will soon respond to the union’s proposal. They almost certainly won’t be happy with many of the details, but the two sides can perhaps find a starting point and bridge the gap. As the calendar turns to June, time is running out for the two sides to hammer out an agreement on what a 2020 season will look like.