This year shapes up to have two of the most exciting Wild Card games since the inception of the new Wild Card format in 2012. Those games between the Cardinals and Braves, and the Rangers and Orioles respectively. As most die-hard baseball fans like myself would remember the National League portion of those contests featured the now-infamous “infield fly” call where Pete Kozma was well onto the outfield grass, the popup was dropped and instead of having the bases loaded with one out, only trailing 6-3, it was two out and two on. This year it will include the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Oakland Athletics (in Oakland) and the Milwaukee Brewers vs. the Washington Nationals (in Washington D.C.).
Tampa Bay Rays-
Why they’ll win– Charlie Morton is set to toe the rubber for the Rays on Wednesday. Morton who at age 35 and in his 11th professional season had his best season yet. Morton had a 3.05 ERA, 240 strikeouts, 194.2 innings, and a .215 opponent batting average, all of which are career bests. He’s facing a team in the A’s who struck out a combined 1330 times. I anticipate that Morton’s devastating Curveball will cause fits for the A’s heavy-hitting lineup. However, it will be interesting to see how deep Morton will go into the game, he’s only thrown fewer than six innings in ten of his thirty-three starts. In today’s version of playoff baseball, it’s not uncommon to see a “starter” throw three innings or less, especially with a Rays team that practically invented the opener.
Why they’ll lose- The Ray’s as a team struck out almost fifteen hundred times this year. They have a very young lineup with only three players that have playoff experience (Tommy Pham, Jesus Agular, and Travis d’Arnaud). Although they have a team average of .254, they’ve only hit 216 home runs and only drove in 727 runs.
Why they’ll win- The A’s have yet to announce a starter for Tuesday’s contest which leads me to believe they’ll most likely go to an opener, maybe Joakim Soria or Jake Deikman, then turn it over to Mike Fires who will be on normal rest having last pitched on the 27th. Although the opener is more common in today’s day and age it is still an adjustment for a hitter to face a different pitcher in two of his first three at-bats. That also allows the bridge to Liam Hendricks to be much shorter, which has been an issue for the A’s. Although their lineup is not the scariest of Major League lineups they get on base, plain and simple. Only two of the nine starters in their lineup have OBP (on-base percentage) below .300, they are Josh Phegley, a light-hitting catcher, and Khris Davis. His job isn’t to get on base but to hit the ball over the wall.
Why they’ll lose- Should the A’s starter or opener implode the A’s don’t have much left in the tank. Their bullpen is depleted, with injuries to Lou Trevino and Blake Treinen who powered the A’s bullpen in 2018 are done with injuries. If they go the route of the opener and that doesn’t go the way they anticipate it could be the end of the A’s. I expect either Soria or Deikman to open if they go that to start, their number two and three relievers, leaving pretty much the only reliever in Liam Hendricks, who I expect to pitch the ninth inning and the ninth inning only.
Why they’ll win- In my opinion, this game isn’t even a contest. The Nationals are the far superior team, that would change if Christian Yelich were in the Brewers lineup. The Nats can pull all sorts of tricks out of their bag. They have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg at their disposal, along with one of the top young players in the game in Juan Soto, the second-best third baseman in Anthony Rendon, and Sean Doolittle who in his last seven games has only allowed two hits.
Why they’ll lose- The only way I see the Nationals not advancing to the NLDS is if their bullpen implodes. Although it’s totally possible, I’m expecting a nice cushy eight-inning start from Scherzer and then Doolittle takes the ball in the ninth with the Nats up 5-0.
Why they’ll win- The Brew Crew has a tough road ahead of them without Christian Yelich but it can be done. Brandon Woodruff takes the mound for the Brew Crew. He also could be their secret offensive weapon. All jokes aside I don’t think the opener will work here for the Brewers, they need depth from Woodruff. This is a team that took the Dodgers to Game 7 of the NLCS last year, however, they have young players in big roles in the likes of Trent Grisham and Keston Hura who have yet to prove themselves in a playoff situation.
Why they’ll lose- Like I said the Brewers don’t have an easy task in the Washington Nationals. The Nats have been one of the best teams in baseball since the end of May after having a dreadful first two months of the year. The Brew Crew was going steady until Yelich went down with the broken kneecap. Frankly, the Brewers are just overmatched. They lost 2 of 3 against the Nats in early August after sweeping them in early May.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference