Why A's should start surging Sean Manaea in AL Wild Card Game vs. Rays


We now know the A's will face the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL Wild Card Game on Wednesday night. We also know that Tampa Bay will start right-hander Charlie Morton, who made his second straight All-Star Game this season.

What we don't know is which pitcher the A's will choose as their starter. Oakland has two good options -- right-hander Mike Fiers and lefty Sean Manaea. However, what once seemed like a difficult decision is now much more clear. Manaea is the right choice.

After missing the first five months of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, Manaea has been nearly unhittable in September. In five starts, he has gone 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 30 strikeouts compared to seven walks.

Meanwhile, Fiers has struggled in his five September starts, going 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA. Sure, much of that damage took place in Houston, where he allowed nine earned runs in just one inning. But even in his four other starts, Fiers' ERA was 4.12.

Fiers had an incredible run in the middle of the season, winning 12 straight decisions. Unfortunately, he has really only been sharp in one of his last five starts. Manaea, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency, even going back to his rehab starts in Triple-A.

You could argue that Oakland should save Manaea for Game 1 of the ALDS in Houston, a place that has given Fiers nightmares this season. It's certainly a logical argument, but the Rays are playing too well to look past them in the Wild Card Game.

Tampa Bay has won seven of its last eight games and 15 of its last 20. Morton, in particular, has owned the A's this season, allowing just one run in 13 1/3 innings. The A's don't have the luxury of looking ahead to the ALDS.

If you're thinking about the Rays' lefty-righty splits, they're nearly identical. Tampa Bay has a .255/.326/.422 slash line against southpaws, compared to .254/.326/.437 against righties. Not much help there.

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Fiers did fare well against the Rays in two starts this season, going 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA, but last season he was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA. Plus, Tampa Bay hasn't seen Manaea this year, which could be an even greater advantage for Oakland.

Wherever the AL Wild Card Game is played, the A's have to go with their absolute best option on the mound. Right now, that's Sean Manaea.

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