SEATTLE — The A’s will play a wild card game, but no starter or roster has been publicly etched in stone. He’s hinted that location could play a part in that decision… Sean Manaea? Mike Fiers? Someone else? We’ll know in a few days.
What we do know is that the A’s will face Tampa Bay Rays’ starter Charlie Morton, who stuns with one of the best curveballs in the game. The A’s have faced him twice this season already — in Tampa and Oakland within 10 days of each start. They know there is little room for error, and the postseason hasn’t been kind to this organization lately.
“I would say we hope he doesn’t have his good stuff, is what we hope,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ve faced him before, we faced him there, faced him with Houston. He’s a premiere pitcher and that’s why they’re starting him in that game. In any postseason game you’ll see their best pitchers, and he deserves to start that game. So you try to break down what he’s going to try to do to you and have the best plan going into the game, but you know there’s a chance he won’t make many mistakes, so you try to make him work.”
The A’s have fallen into clutch-hit slump in this final road trip — batting 2-for-43 with RISP — and swinging for the fences to tide them over. This may just be late-season fatigue that could be quashed with postseason adrenaline; the A’s will need to go back to their bread and butter against Morton.
The home run may be hard to come by against Morton — Jurickson Profar has one against him at Oakland this year. That was the only run he allowed, holding Oakland to just six hits with 13 strikeouts over 13.1 innings.
Morton averages an 86 mph exit velocity, 32 percent hard hit average with a middling fastball velocity balanced out by a befuddling breaking ball, so the A’s could turn into doink-hitters — stay inside the ball, go with the pitch and prevent zone expansion (this is a strategy the slap-hit happy Rays operate with, too).
They did something similar against Wade Miley in the 21-run game in September (Miley wasn’t as sharp as his near shutout against the A’s back in July). An example courtesy of Mark Canha:
Marcus Semien took a similar approach on this hit off Morton’s back in June at Tropicana Field, slapping a curveball outside the zone the other way.
Matt Olson took this curveball and punched it into right field. Move-the-line mentality might trump Bash Brother mania at the Coliseum.
Matchups might play a part in how the starting lineup is compiled. Morton has a 4.59 ERA against lefties in 96 innings and a 1.55 ERA against righties in 98.2 innings. Melvin hinted that positional player flexibility might be preferred over pitching flexibility, the A’s may carryHere’s how the A’s roster might look for the wild card game.
Infielders: Matt Olson, Jurickson Profar, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Sheldon Neuse, Chad Pinder (6).
Outfielders: Seth Brown, Ramón Laureano, Mark Canha, Robbie Grossman, Stephen Piscotty (5).
Catchers: Sean Murphy, Josh Phegley (2).
DH: Khris Davis (1).
Starters: Sean Manaea starts — Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt (3)
Relievers: Jesús Luzardo, A.J. Puk, Liam Hendriks, Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit, Joakim Soria, J.B. Wendelken, Ryan Buchter (8)
Chris Bassitt would, of course, come out of the bullpen. Luzardo and/or Puk could be excellent piggybacking with Manaea against a tough left-handed lineup. The A’s starting lineup could be lefty-heavy. Seth Brown might get a start in left field an Jurickson Profar — despite some defensive wobbles — should start at second.
Piscotty started Sunday’s finale, his first game action since late-August, hoping to gain as much traction and into as much of a groove as he could to prove he can play in the postseason, no matter how fresh off the IL.
He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout, hitting the ball with a 91 and 88 mph exit velocity after a rough first at bat with a strikeout.
“Three straight sliders after not seeing a pitch in a while was tough, but I think the later at bats I was starting to see some pitches,” Piscotty said. “I was trying to be aggressive today to make sure I was swinging and not just up there taking. So I feel like I expanded the zone which I probably wouldn’t normally do, but as the game went, felt good. Hit the ball to right, which I liked. Good sign for me.
Piscotty said he felt right to come back earlier than today, but with the wild card and home field on the line, he and the team felt it best that he wait it out a bit.
Wild card starting lineup prediction:
SS Marcus Semien, 3B Matt Chapman, 1B Matt Olson (L), CF Mark Canha, 2B Jurickson Profar (S), RF Ramón Laureano, DH Khris Davis, LF Seth Brown (L), C Sean Murphy, Sean Manaea (LHP).