With the regular season officially in the books, the NL and AL Wild Card games will take place early this week.
NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals
While the Brewers rallied the last couple weeks of the season after Christian Yelich broke his kneecap, they will face an intimidating Nationals team in our nation’s capital on Tuesday night.
Max Scherzer will be on the bump for the Nats tonight. Having a productive season with an ERA of 2.92 on the year, Max certainly struggled in the 2nd half while dealing with injuries. His 2.30 first half ERA stood among the league’s best. However, his 2nd half was one to forget. Pitching just 43 innings, his ERA stood at 4.81. One thing he struggled with later in the season was giving up the long ball. Scherzer averages 1.88 HR/9 in the 2nd half, tripling his first half numbers. Scherzer is going to be the most important player for the Nats in tonight’s matchup. However, on the offensive side, the Nats will feature the most underrated player in all over baseball.
Anthony Rendon is criminally underrated. Rendon has showcased his offensive and defensive abilities for years now, and people still manage to overlook him. Rendon, a career .290 hitter, had a career year this season. He ripped 34 round-trippers while driving in 126 RBI’s. His OPS finished over 1.000 which included his career-best .412 OBP. He finished 7th in wOBA at .413, one point back of Cody Bellinger who finished with a .414 wOBA. Rendon will be an MVP candidate, but will most likely fail to acquire the hardware due to the preposterous numbers Yelich and Bellinger put up.
Brandon Woodruff got the nod from Craig Counsell to start on the mound for the Brewers. The Brewers pitching staff as a whole has been decent. Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, Adrian Houser, Gio Gonzalez, and Chase Anderson round out the rotation for Milwaukee. Assuming the team does a 4-man rotation, I would imagine Anderson be moved to the bullpen if the Brewers are able to advance to the NLDS.
The baseball world stood still when Christian Yelich exited an early September game with a fractured kneecap. While it was a huge blow to his NL MVP chances, it was an even bigger blow for his team. While Christian Yelich very well may still win the NL MVP, his team also went 14-5 since he went down on September 10th.
Mike Moustakas, Keston Hiura, and even Ryan Braun took the extra workload upon themselves and made the best of it. Ryan Braun has had a great season. In the decline of his career, Braun hit .285 with a .849 OPS. His stat line included 22 homers and 75 RBI’s as well. If his production pours into the postseason, this Brewers team has a legitimate shot at making some noise in October. The middle of this lineup is in dire need to produce runs off of Scherzer and assist their pitching against a tough Nationals lineup. With that being said, this matchup should be a great one. The winner will play the Dodgers in the NLDS.
AL Wild Card: Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics
This is a matchup I’m really looking forward to. Both of these teams are not talked about as much as they should be. The A’s have been one of the best AL teams over the last 3 seasons, while the Rays premier a fantastic rotation with a lineup that can support it. In my opinion, I think that it’s possible for one of these teams to get past the Astros and into the ALCS. While the chances are slim, I can see it happening.
The A’s have been a consistent team across the board. Their pitching is nothing amazing, but it is certainly consistent at a decent level. Their lineup flashes loads of young potential with Matt Chapman, Ramon Laureano, Matt Olson, and Marcus Semien. With power scattered around the lineup, this A’s team had SEVEN players hit 20+ homers including 3 players hitting more than 30. While Matt Chapman is the all-around best player in the lineup, Mark Cahna is someone to watch for in Wednesday’s game. Cahna put up solid numbers on the season, and even had an OPS north of .900 at .913. Cahna’s 26 homers also ranked 4th on the roster.
With a late decision, the A’s decided that Sean Manaea will get the start. Manaea only had a handful of starts after recovering from Tommy John surgery for 13 months prior to his first start on September 1st, but he put up great numbers. Over his 29.2 innings pitched in 5 starts, Manaea had a 1.21 ERA with 30 K’s to go with it. He gets batters out, and his 0.78 WHIP backs that statement up.
For Tampa, Charlie Morton will be the starting pitcher. Morton has been lights out and has been the Rays most durable pitcher this season. With the injuries to Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, Morton has been the rock in the rotation this year and thrived in his role. With a 3.05 ERA on the season, Morton is a strikeout machine with 240 punchouts over 194.2 IP. Morton brought his BB/9 average down from last season, walking 2% less batters than the previous season. That low BB/9 rate has helped him achieve the lowest WHIP of his career at 1.08 on the season. Morton was the clear pick to get the ball for Tampa.
The Rays lineup has magic. With what seems like dozens of walk-off hits this season, it won’t be an easy task to keep the Rays’ bats quiet. Austin Meadows has been the centerpiece of the Rays lineup since he was acquired from the Pirates last season (I won’t get into how the Rays fleeced the Pirates because in what world was that ever going to be a good trade). Meadows launched 33 homers and drove in 89 RBI’s. His .291 average led the team, and he put up a productive slash line of .291/.364/.558. Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia, and Brandon Lowe have proven to be great role players who can get on base as well as hit for power.
The Rays bullpen is also a huge piece of this team. We know how experimental this franchise is, and they aren’t afraid to throw in bullpen pitcher to open up a game. Ryan Yarbrough is a perfect example of this. He was a bullpen pitcher turned starter. Being the pioneers of the “opener”, the Rays rely heavily on their bullpen to keep them in games and they do just that as Tampa had the 2nd lowest ERA in the big leagues this season. Oakland will need to be extra aggressive if they want to get past the Rays pitching. The Rays offense is extremely average, so their pitching is going to need to keep them in this game on Wednesday night in Oakland. The winner will face the Astros in the ALDS.
Retired Little League baseball utility player.