Athletics vs. Rays Wild Card Betting Odds & Predictions: Is the Right Team Favored?

Athletics vs. Rays Wild Card Betting Odds & Predictions: Is the Right Team Favored? article feature image
Credit:

Kim Klement, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Charlie Morton

  • Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Charlie Morton will take the mound in tonight's AL Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics.
  • Morton and the Rays are slight underdogs (+125 moneyline odds).
  • Our MLB analyst Sean Zerillo breaks down every angle of Rays-A's, including what his model is projecting and his favorite betting pick of the night.

Athletics vs. Rays Wild Card Betting Odds & Predictions

Probable starters: Charlie Morton (16-6, 3.05 ERA) vs. Sean Manaea (4-0, 1.21 ERA)

  • Rays odds: +125
  • Athletics odds: -145
  • Over/Under:  7.5
  • First pitch:  8:09 p.m. ET on ESPN
  • Location: Oakland, Calif.

Odds as Tuesday evening. Check out PointsBet, where Action Network users get an exclusive 200% deposit match (deposit $50, bet with $150).


The Tampa Bay Rays (96-66) and Oakland Athletics (97-67) meet in Oakland on Wednesday night, with the winner slated to play the AL West champion Houston Astros (107-55) in a five-game series beginning on Friday.

Both teams were hot in the second half, as the Athletics went 46-24 (.657) while the Rays went 44-27 (.620) after the All-Star break, suitable for a full season pace of 106 and 100 wins respectively.

The duo was even better in September, with the Athletics going 18-8 (.692, a 112-win pace) and the Rays finishing 17-8 (.680, a 110-win pace), as both teams held off the late-charging Cleveland Indians.

This is Oakland’s second consecutive appearance in the AL Wild Card game, and they’ll be hoping to avoid a third-straight defeat in the Wild Card stage — after falling 7-2 to the Yankees in 2018, and 9-8 to the Kansas City Royals in 2014.

Oakland’s most recent appearance in the divisional playoff round came in 2013.

Meanwhile, the Rays won the 2013 AL Wild Card game, before falling to the Boston Red Sox in the divisional series; and Wednesday will mark their first playoff game in over six years.

Can the Athletics make good on their back-to-back 97 win seasons, and advance to push their AL-West rivals in a five-game playoff series, or will we see an epic pitching battle between the Rays and the Astros play out in the divisional round?

The Starters

Any way that you slice it, Charlie Morton has been one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball in recent memory.

His ranks amongst 45 qualified starters, over the past two seasons:

  • ERA: 9th
  • FIP: 7th
  • xFIP: 9th
  • SIERA: 8th
  • K-BB%: 9th

The pitchers above Morton in FIP: Mike Clevinger, Justin Verlander, Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom.

Charlie Morton is an ace.

He ranks fourth in FIP (2.85) this season, behind only Scherzer, Cole, and deGrom.

Morton signed a two-year, $30 million contract with the Rays in the offseason, coming over to Tampa Bay after a couple of breakout seasons with the Astros – and he hasn’t missed a beat.

The 35-year-old is throwing his curveball more than ever before (37.3%), an eight percent increase over 2018:

He leads all pitchers in curveball pitch value (+24.8) and ranks sixth on a per-pitch basis in 2019, with a swinging strike rate of 38% on the pitch.

The curveball works even better when paired with a high fastball, which, as you can see below, is Morton’s preferred strategy (view from pitcher’s perspective):

When you’re consistently changing the eye level, it leads to some particularly bad cuts from opposing hitters:

As for the Athletics, Sean Manaea is making his sixth start after returning from a late 2018 shoulder injury, which was supposed to keep him sidelined for the entirety of the 2019 season.

Manaea has been terrific in his five September outings, allowing four runs in 29.2 innings pitched, with a 30:7 strikeout to walk ratio, despite showing decreased fastball velocity over last season:

The southpaw has never been a big strikeout arm, averaging 7.3 strikeouts per nine innings for his career, but he has good command over three pitches (four-seam fastball, slider, changeup) and generates a lot of weak contact.

Though he has a higher career wOBA against righties (.315) than vs. lefties (.258) Manaea’s best pitch is his changeup, which he throws almost exclusively to righties.

I wouldn’t put too much stock into his 2019 performance, as Manaea has a strand rate of 100% and a BABIP of .194 in his five starts – compared to career averages of 74% and .278.

Though he did face the Yankees in his first outing on Sept. 1, Manaea’s four opponents since then were the Mariners, Rangers (twice), and Tigers.

Morton is the more established starter, with a higher ceiling, and one could make a legitimate argument that he should be the listed favorite in this game.

The Bullpens

On the season, the Athletics bullpen ranks 13th in FIP, 19th in xFIP and 20th in K-BB%. By the same metrics, the Rays rank 1st, 3rd, and 2nd.

However, the Athletics added prospect arms A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo to their roster in September, and the two combined for 29 strikeouts in 16 appearances and 23.1 innings pitched.

Puk is the Athletics’ No. 2 prospect but underwent Tommy John surgery in late 2018. In 2017, he led the minors with 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings, with an elite fastball (97.6 mph) and plus-slider from the left side.

Standing six-foot-seven, and weighing 240 pounds, Puk is an intimidating presence on the mound.

Listed at exactly six feet tall, Jesus Luzardo doesn’t have quite the same build as Puk, but he’s the No. 1 prospect in the Athletics system.

The 22-year-old lefty jumped from Single-A to Triple-A in 2018, after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2017.

He is exceptionally polished, showing outstanding command of three pitches (fastball, curveball, changeup) with elite velocity (97 mph).

Oakland ranked 11th in FIP over the final two months of the season, and the addition of these electric, high upside lefties only boosts their ceiling.

On the flip side, nobody manages their pitching like the Rays do – the team who essentially invented opener strategy. They toss out one elite relief pitcher after another, most of whom can spin baseballs like you spin a wiffleball:

The biggest surprise for Tampa Bay this season was the emergence of Emilio Pagan, who came over from Oakland in the offseason and eventually settled in as the Rays closer.

Pagan increased his fastball velocity from 94.6 mph with Oakland to 95.8 mph with the Rays, while seeing a bump to his swinging strike rate (14% to 17.6%) and  strikeout to walk ratio (3.3 to 7.4) as he has posted the best FIP (3.30) and xFIP (3.15) of his career.

Pagan is just one piece of Tampa Bay’s assembly line bullpen.

However, the Athletics might have the best individual reliever in this Wild Card game, as Liam Hendriks (1.63 ERA, 1.82 FIP), who started the 2018 Wild Card game, has displaced Blake Treinen as the Athletics closer.

Hendriks is bringing the gas, throwing harder (96.9 mph) and using his fastball more frequently than ever before:

Projected Lineups

Data per FantasyLabs

Weather Report

Data per Sports Insights

Trends to Know

Favorites are 9-5 (64.3%) straight up in Wild Card Games, while home teams are 8-6 (57.1%). Over/unders are split down the middle, 7-7.

The Athletics (+165) and Rays (+113) own the fifth and sixth highest run differential margins in MLB.

The Rays won the season series against the Athletics 4-3 but were outscored 30-28 in those contests.

The  Rays are 13-17 in postseason play dating back to 2008. They won their only previous Wild Card Game appearance, in 2013 against the Cleveland Indians.

Dating back to 2017, Charlie Morton is 68-35 (62.4%) on the full game moneyline, but 51-22-15 (69.9%) in the first five innings, generating a consistent $100 bettor $1,118 (12.7% ROI).

Over the same span, Sean Manaea is 34-27 (55.7%) on the full game moneyline, but just 26-25-10 (51%) in the first half of games.

The Athletics are 7-12 in postseason play dating back to 2006. They are 0-2 in Wild Card Games, losing in 2014 and 2018.

In games played in Oakland (postseason and regular season) where the average temperature is below 64 degrees (estimated 63 degrees on Wednesday), the under is 362-313-40 (53.6%) at O.co Coliseum, generating a consistent $100 bettor $3,016.

Model Projected Odds

Favorite Bet

I projected the Athletics as a -107 favorite in this game, so I see a 3.9% value gap between my projection for the Rays (48.3.%) and the odds implied by their +125 moneyline (44.4%). 

I set the over/under at 7.27, so I don’t see any value on the total of 7.5. 

I would consider betting the Rays down to +115, which would still represent a two percent value gap between my projected odds and the listed odds.

As of writing, there is clear two-way action on this game, with the Athletics taking fewer moneyline tickets (44%) but receiving the majority of the cash (55%). There is no apparent public side in this matchup as of yet.

The Rays are currently a slightly bigger underdog in the first five innings (F5) of the game than they are over the full nine innings, and at the same price, I might prefer the F5 wager – giving the Rays a slightly better chance (0.4%) in the first half.

However, if you’re faced with the choice, I might look to split a unit between the F5 and the full game moneylines.