Officially the No. 2 seed in the AL, the Oakland A’s (36-24) will host the Chicago White Sox (35-25) in the wild-card round of the 2020 MLB postseason on Tuesday in Oakland.
This is the third straight year the A’s have qualified for the postseason, and this year they won’t have their single elimination curse to blame for not playing deep into October, or at least this season, into October.
The A’s had home field advantage last season but fell short against Tampa Bay with 54,005 fans in attendance. This year with a three-game wild-card — even with zero fans at the Coliseum — will feel more like a regular series, which may be their key to success.
The A’s were fighting for the No. 2 spot and it ultimately came down to Sunday. In order for the A’s to earn the second spot they needed both the Twins and White Sox to lose and they did. Had either of the two teams won, Oakland as the third seed would have played their division nemesis, the Houston Astros.
The A’s and White Sox haven’t played each other this season, but in 2019 the A’s won all four matchups between the two. The new and improved Sox are undefeated against left-handed pitchers this season, with a 14-0 record when a lefty starts. Two key A’s starters — Jesús Luzardo, who will start Game 1and Sean Manaea — are of course left-handed.
Right-hander Chris Bassitt seems to be the A’s unannounced ace this season and could have been expected to pitch the first game. Melvin, though, said the team had been eyeing Luzardo to open the playoffs for some time. Bassitt will start Game 2, with Manaea and Mike Fiers apparent contenders to start the third game, if necessary.
Fiers (6-3, 4.58 ERA) may finally earn a start in postseason this year. He deserves the spot on his pitching alone, but with the White Sox success against lefties, he could get the spot for the third game. Manaea started just five games in 2019 and earned the start but lost the wild-card game. He is 4-3 in eleven 2020 starts with a 4.50 ERA, and is looking to redeem himself this season, which may be the extra motivation he needs to perform his best.
Chad Pinder explained that the vibe two years ago in New York when the A’s played the Yankees was much different than when they played the Rays at home in 2019:
“Last year when we came to the field it felt like everybody was at peace there was no tension, we were just going out to win a baseball game … Granted last year things didn’t go our way but I did feel like there wasn’t anybody overwhelmed or anything in that nature. Having those two games and those experiences going into this game, I hope, and would think that the guys that have been playing and have been through it, they know how it is.”
Many of these A’s have been through the postseason before, and knowing it is not a do or die situation this year may help them relax and play good baseball, which they have been playing for the majority of the season. Pinder explained that sometimes players can hype up postseason play to the point where they may freak themselves out:
“Just trying not to make too much of it, it is still a three-game series, it is still playing baseball. I’ve talked to Tommy [La Stella] a little bit and he was with the Cubs when they won that World Series and just talking about you get there and you see it and you feel it and then you realize this is still the same exact game, granted the stakes are higher but you are still playing the same exact game.”
If the A’s can execute a wild-card win, they will play the winner of the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins. If the Astros win, the A’s chances of playing deeper into post season seem that much more promising.
Bob Melvin mentioned Sunday that Joakim Soria (2.28 ERA in 22-1/3 IP) and Liam Hendriks (1.78 ERA, 25-1/3 IP) were two bullpenners not available that game so we can assume they are in Melvin’s plans for Tuesday as veterans who can get the job done under pressure. Mike Minor, Luzardo and Frankie Montas started all season but could be used to relieve in the playoffs.
The White Sox have Alex Colomé (2-0, 0.81 ERA), and in his 22-1/3 innings pitched looks to be the ace out of the pen. The White Sox have a better team batting average than the A’s but Oakland has been known for their late comeback wins and never seem to be out of any game. Oakland leads the Majors in extra inning walk-off wins.
The A’s are coming off a win and the Sox a loss, but both clubs played similar baseball down the stretch and their bats aren’t particularly hot as the season comes to an end. Melvin explained the value of closing the season on a winning note:
“The mood is always better after a win. … if you won 6 games in a row and lost your last game, it is still a loss and there is a different mood to it. Guys come to the ballpark everyday to play to win so I am not going to say it isn’t a better feeling going into the workout [Monday].”
Offensively, the White Sox have three players in the top 25 in OPS — on-base plus slugging percentage — compared to two for the A’s. MVP contender Jose Abreu ranks No. 5, at .987, while White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez ranked No. 11 (.890) and shortstop Tim Anderson was ranked No. 12 (.886). Jimenez sustained an ankle injury last week and didn’t play against the Cubs in their last home series. If he plays it will be a huge benefit for the Sox and will be tough for the A’s.
Robbie Grossman and Tommy La Stella are the A’s players in the top 25, with Grossman at No. 19 (.826) and La Stella at No. 20 (.819). Grossman has been unbelievable at the plate all season and La Stella, acquired near the trade deadline from the Angels, has been making contact ever since he arrived. These might not be two names that come to mind when you think of A’s heroes, though both both have been amazing all year. The rankings are based off stats which doesn’t always paint the full picture. Not one A’s player is batting in the .300’s and three of Sox starters are: Anderson, Nick Madrigal and Abreu, who leads Chicago with 19 homers and 60 RBI this season.