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Rays eliminate A’s, 5-1, with four homers. Let’s take a glance from an Astros’ perspective.

Old friend Charlie Morton logs MLB record third winner-take-all victory

2019 AL Wild Card - Tampa Bay Rays v. Oakland Athletics Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Unlike last night’s Wild Card Game, the road team was able to preserve an early lead and prevail with a victory. That means the Tampa Bay Rays will face the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series beginning Friday at Minute Maid Park.

There wasn’t a whole lot of drama associated with this one. Yandy Diaz clubbed the first leadoff home run in Rays’ postseason history to give Tampa Bay a lead it would never relinquish.

Diaz, who is 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, is an ominous power bat for the Rays that pummeled a homer off Gerrit Cole during the season-opening series in March.

Houston legend Charlie Morton labored through a 30-pitch first inning in which he loaded the bases with two walks. Though he struggled with his control early, Ground Chuck was able to wiggle out of the jam by retiring Jurickson Profar to end the inning. If Morton is ever shaky, it seems to be early in outings, which the Astros will try to take full advantage of in their matchup against him in the ALDS—especially given their familiarity with Salty.

Avisail Garcia cranked a two-run homer, the second bomb of the night for Tampa, to give the Rays a 3-0 lead three outs into Sean Manaea’s start.

After Manaea allowed another blast to Diaz to open the third inning, his night was done. He surrendered a career-high three home runs and the Rays were able to crack the Oakland bullpen six outs into Manaea’s start.

More importantly for the Astros, now that the Rays have advanced, are the two homers for Yandy Diaz leading off innings. His bat at the top of the lineup will present quite a scare for Astros starters, akin to George Springer for Astros’ foes. As you assuredly recall, Justin Verlander gave up 36 home runs this year—tied for third-most in baseball.

Morton allowed an unearned run in the third inning that was the product of an errant throw from third baseman Mike Brosseau that resulted in a three-base error. Ramon Laureano, the next batter, drove in Marcus Semien for the A’s only run of the evening. The notable event from this sequence was the defense of Diaz, who was manning first base. Most of the metrics on the ESPN2 broadcast seemed to indicate Diaz is a potential defensive liability for the Rays. He was in the lineup Wednesday, nonetheless, due to his prodigious power stroke. But the premier ability of the Astros to make contact could lead to some difficult lineup decisions for Tampa Bay.

The Rays deployed a four-man outfield with two outs and nobody on against Matt Olson in the fourth inning. Tampa Bay had no infielders on the left side, a tactic they might utilize against some of the Astros’ lefties in the upcoming series.

Morton’s curve was pretty wicked against Oakland tonight. He averaged the most vertical movement on a curveball in the Majors (8.1 inches) this season, and it’s also an offering Morton uses as a put-away pitch more than anyone in the game. He registered an MLB-high 139 strikeouts via the breaking ball in 2019.

In all, Morton lasted five innings and threw 94 pitches, allowing an unearned run on five hits and three walks to go with four strikeouts. He’s the likely starter for Game 3 of the ALDS in Tampa on Monday.

Tommy Pham hit the Rays’ fourth homer of night in the fifth inning to give a Tampa 5-1 lead, a downright scary proposition with the bullpen they have in tow.

Once the Rays are staked to a lead, their pitching can be lethal. And Wednesday night wasn’t any different.

After Diego Castillo tossed two innings of scoreless relief, lockdown late-inning man Nick Anderson entered. Anderson, a 28-year-old rookie acquired in trade from Miami at the deadline, struck out 110 batters in 65 innings of relief this season. Since joining the Rays, he’s struck out 53% of batters faced and posted a 17K/9, 20.50 K/BB ratio, and 214 ERA+. Anderson a very good rising fastball that he used to embarrass A’s hitters in the Wild Card game. He struck out all four batters he faced and looked absolutely dominant. The Astros will hope to avoid facing him in leverage situations.

Chaz Roe, who didn’t pitch Wednesday, has the most horizontal break on sliders in MLB (15.1 inches).

The caveat with the Rays was that, while they are supposed to be a team with strong pitching, they don’t frighten teams too much with their hitting. Tampa Bay ranked middle-of-the-pack in the AL in terms of runs scored in 2019. However, they certainly appeared fully capable in both areas as they slugged the A’s into the offseason.

With the victory, Morton became the first pitcher in MLB history with victories in three winner-take-all games. As a staff, the Rays led the AL this season with a 34% hard-hit rate and the postseason matchup between Houston and Tampa Bay promises to be filled with the best pitching out there.

The A’s have lost nine straight elimination games, extending their record for the most all-time. They’ve also lost six straight elimination games at home, another dubious Major-League record.

Box score and videos here.

Verlander (21-6, 2.58) will get the start in Game 1 for the Astros. He led the AL in Wins, WHIP (0.80), Hits/9 (5.53), K/BB ratio (7.14), IP (223), Win Probability Added (5.6), and WAR amongst Pitchers (7.8). He also ranked second in ERA, Adjusted ERA+ (179), Strikeouts (300), K/9 (12.11), BB/9 (1.740), right behind teammate Gerrit Cole in most of those categories, who is scheduled to Game 2 on Saturday night. Verlander went six innings and allowed three runs while striking out 12 against the Los Angeles Angels in his final start of the regular season. In three starts against the Angels this season, Verlander went 2-0 in two starts against Tampa Bay this season, striking out 13 in 12 1/3 innings. The lone run he allowed was a leadoff homer to Austin Meadows to start the season. Overall, Verlander is 10-4 with a 3.17 ERA in 20 career starts against the Rays. A starting pitcher for Game 1 has not yet been named by Tampa Bay, but manager Kevin Cash said he expects RHP Tyler Glasnow to open, followed by LHP Blake Snell in Game 2. First pitch for Game 1 will come Friday afternoon at 1:05 CT. The game will be aired on FS1.