The Major League Baseball Post Season: Wild Card Round - by Brian Phillips

6pm EST October 2: AL Wild Card Line ups/Rosters out. Thoughts below.

After a year of record setting dingers, another high water mark in strikeouts, and embarrassing futility at the bottom of the American League we’ve reached baseball’s post season. Now the game changes. (For instance the Yankees don’t get to play the Orioles any more.)

One thing we’ll recognize is the creative deployment of pitching staffs. Openers aren’t just for the Rays any more. With all their injuries the Yankees were even doing it fairly often as the season wore on. It’s no accident that the A’s, Rays, and Brewers all made it to October. They’ve been leaders in how bullpen arms can be dispatched at any time and more efficiently. They’ve also been brutally honest in accepting what their starters can and cannot do. When Milwaukee got red hot (after losing Christian Yelich no less!) their starters were lucky get two trips through an opponents order.

We’ll be adding to our coverage here as we move through the playoffs. We’ll start with Tuesday and Wednesday’s Wild Card match ups. Remember! It’s one game. Win or go home.

Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals

Tuesday October 1

Brandon Woodruff (11-3 3.62) vs Max Scherzer (11-7 2.92)

Woodruff was just returning from injury in September so don’t expect him to go any longer than the first three. The Brewers would be happy to let him wind it out 100% one time through the order. After that we’ll likely see an improving Jordan Lyles for a couple of frames followed by blow away closer Josh Hader at most any time. Without Yelich the Brewers have to keep this close. I don’t like them against a power righty like Scherzer. They can strike out at a high clip. Ryan Braun and Lorenzo Cain are dinged up already, and not good against righties.

The key to beating Scherzer is hunting for home runs. He will give them up. If you can grab a walk or a cheap hit, a bomb or two can be lingering behind those. Yasmani Grandal, Eric Thames, Mike Moustakas, and impressive rookie Keston Hiura will be looking to jump a Scherzer heater. The X-factor is young lead off hitter Trent Grisham. He’s had his moments this season.

As for the Nationals, this is an impressive line up. Keep an eye on two hole hitter Adam Eaton. He’s quietly pumped up his power profile the last couple of months. With Trea Turner in front of him, and mashers Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and the always reliable Howie Kendrick 3, 4, and 5 this is a club that can jump out to an early lead and sit on it.

Washington’s biggest weakness is it’s bullpen, but with an all or nothing Wild Card game it’s all hands. If Scherzer runs into trouble (and he has had back trouble this season) we could see Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin both appearing.

I like the Nats at home, but this is baseball. These Wild Card games can be strange.

Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland A’s

Wednesday October 2

Charlie Morton (16-6 3.05) vs Sean Manaea (4-0 1.21)

With all the above about bull penning we might just have to forget all that when we look at this pitching match up. Morton has been great all year, and on paper any way he should be able to navigate an A’s team that sees most of their thump come from the right side of the plate. That said, when Morton has struggled (and that’s not very often) it’s been on the road. Oakland will put the ball in play so I don’t expect Morton to just mow them down.

As for Manaea he returned from injury late in the season and looked very good. His underlying numbers don’t quite add up to a sterling 1.21 ERA, but the A’s have to be pleased with what that they’ve seen. Given a choice you’d rather start a good lefty against Tampa if only to mitigate stud outfielder Austin Meadows a bit. (Why the Pirates traded him I have no idea.)

6pm EST: Rosters And Line Ups Now Out

The biggest surprises come on the Tampa side. Former Indian Yandy Diaz is leading off and playing first. He was out for weeks with a bum foot and only returned at the end of the year to DH. The Rays must feel he’s ready to go, and Diaz is certainly a plus glove if he’s healthy. One time Columbus Clipper Jesus Aguilar is also on the roster if Diaz doesn’t hold up. Rookie Michael Brosseau starts at second and bats 9th over Daniel Robertson. He’s shown some pop against lefties this year. If need be Joey Wendle is a good choice to pinch hit and play second or third should the A’s go to a righty. I can’t wait to see left handed hitter Matthews face Manaea. Should be fun to watch.

The Rays have 10 pitchers on the roster tonight and in case Morton falters I like them to look at Ryan Yarbrough before Blake Snell. Snell’s injury marred 2019 had him coming back displaying some of his old wildness. Tyler Glasnow could certainly give them three solid innings as well.

Over on the Oakland side Bob Melvin is opting for experience over interesting rookies. Robbie Grossman bats 8th in left over Seth Brown. Jurickson Profar hits 6th at second over Sheldon Neuse. Four of the first five hitters hit from the right, but all are dangerous. If I had a vote for AL MVP it may well have gone to Short stop Marcus Semien, who has had an amazing all around year. Matt Olson is the biggest power danger for Morton in the four hole. DH Khris Davis has had hand problems all year, and just hasn’t been himself. Still, he’s got that lightning strike power.

Oakland has tapped 11 pitchers for this game. Perhaps this is an acknowledgement that Manaea is not that far removed from a long IL stint. Jesus Luzardo recently returned from suspension. If a long man is needed they could well turn to him.

I like Oakland at home 5-4.