The Oakland Athletics lost 5-1 to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, and despite another playoff elimination game loss, the futures bright in Oakland.
Starter Sean Manaea did not have it Wednesday night in the Athletic’s 5-1 Wild Card loss against the Rays. The 27-year-old Manaea had missed the first five months on the season recovering from shoulder surgery but had managed to pitch in five games, posting a 1.21 ERA with 30 strikeouts and only 7 walks.
But the lefty had been coming off an excellent 2018 season where Manaea finished with a 3.59 ERA in 27 starts, which included a no-hitter against the eventual World Series Champion Red Sox.
Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin wrestled with the idea of starting veteran starter Mike Fiers but elected to go with the hot hand in Manaea. It’s easy to criticize the move now, especially since Fiers has a 2.90 ERA and held teams to a .217 average at home this season, but Melvin made the decision to trust Manaea and his stuff.
Manaea took the heat for Wednesday night’s loss, blaming himself for the A’s 5-1 loss to the Rays, despite his team not adding much offense to help at the plate. Manaea made three crucial mistakes, but all ended up leaving the yard, allowing three home runs that accounted for all five of the Rays runs Wednesday night.
Manaea is one of a few promising left-handed starters in Oakland’s that includes No. 2 prospect A.J. Puk and current top prospect Jesus Luzardo, who tossed three innings of one-hit baseball that included four strikeouts. The 22-year-old Luzardo was also the 2nd youngest player in Oakland history to appear in a game and could be the team’s best starter next season.
Luzardo showed off his stuff tonight, nearly touching triple-digits while mixing in some sharp breaking balls, making A’s fans drool despite watching their team get eliminated from the postseason. Even Luzardo’s teammate and fellow starter Brett Anderson was in awe of Luzardo, telling Susan Slusser of San Francisco Chronicle, “The three innings Luzardo pitched (Wednesday) are three of the most impressive innings I’ve seen out of anyone, let alone someone that young.”
And after seeing this overlay below of Luzardo’s pitches, it’s hard not to get excited about Oakland’s talented lefty.
But Luzardo and Manaea aren’t the only lefty arms with promise, as A.J. Puk was finally able to make his MLB debut this season. A former 1st round pick, Puk underwent Tommy John surgery last season but showed enough in his 25.1 innings of work in the minors to be promoted to the big league club in August.
Strictly in a relief role, Puk posted an impressive 3.18 ERA and 10.32 K/9 in 10 appearances from the bullpen this season. Initially, it was thought that Puk would be limited to just his fastball and slider, staying away from his change-up and curveball due to discomfort. But Puk was not only throwing his full repertoire with Oakland, but he was also being used in multiple innings with no issue.
That’s a 90 MPH slider, in case you didn’t catch that. The 6’7″ Puk was also expected to be apart of the rotation this season had he been healthy, similar to Manaea, and a full off-season to work on improving instead of rehabbing will help Puk prepare for 2020 as a starter.
But with Manaea, Luzardo, and Puk in the Oakland rotation, alongside veteran Mike Fiers, the Athletics could easily have one of the most talented rotations in baseball next season. And for a 97-win ballclub with an offense that finished 6th in home runs this season, Oakland could be a real threat to the Astros in the AL West and the rest of the American League.
Wednesday night wasn’t very fun for Oakland, but despite another heart-breaking loss, there’s plenty to smile about with the Athletics’ bright future.