After finishing the 2020 season with a record of 35-25, the Chicago White Sox travel to Oakland, California to take on the Athletics in the American League Wild Card Series.
The A’s come in with a regular-season record of 36-24 that was good enough to win their American League West Division by seven games. They finished their campaign going 5-5 in their last ten and completing a home series against the Seattle Mariners where they split a four-game set. Their club went 22-10 at home this season, which totals two more games than the anticipated home-road balance. But what is normal in 2020 anyway?
A big advantage the A’s have for this series is the fact that they stayed put where they were geographically opposed to the White Sox, who are entering the Pacific Time Zone for the first time all season. Let’s take a deeper dive into the Oakland Athletics with more information about one of the most consistent teams in the American League.
The Oakland A’s finished the regular season with a team slash line of .225/.322/.396 in addition to 71 home runs and 264 RBIs. They sit right around league average in wRC+ at 101. Oakland will be without one of their best hitters in Matt Chapman, as he is sidelined with a hip injury. Surprisingly, Robbie Grossman, Tommy La Stella, and Mark Canha have been some of their better producers at the plate. While Marcus Semien and Matt Olson have had underwhelming seasons in comparison to past production levels, don’t rule out either of them providing some thunder from the middle of the A’s lineup. It also might not be a good idea to be tied with this team in the late-going. Oakland had six walk-off wins in their 60-game slate.
Oakland finished 2020 with the fifth-best team ERA in the MLB at 3.77, just four points better than the White Sox 3.81 ERA. They also ranked fifth in saves with 17 as a club. Liam Hendriks led the way with 14 door slams while Joakim Soria contributed with a pair. Their starting staff is spearheaded by veteran right-hander Mike Fiers, who accumulated a team-best six wins over 11 starts this season. Chris Bassitt and Sean Manaea complement the rotation, and yes, Manaea is a left-handed arm. Fellow lefty Jesus Luzardo will get the ball to start game one. He posted a 3-2 record and 4.12 ERA over 59 innings in the shortened 2020 season. The Oakland bullpen consists of a pair of lefties in Jake Diekman and T.J. McFarland, but the rest are right-handers who can come in and quiet an offense.
Who to Watch
There are actually a pair of names here that should be paid attention to. The first is the aforementioned Jake Diekman. The southpaw was used in 21 games and didn’t give up an earned run until September 23rd against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That allowed him to have the team’s lowest ERA at 0.42. He’s Oakland’s late-inning guy and has the ability to stretch from one frame to two. In just over 21 innings, he struck out 31 batters. He doesn’t give up much — just eight hits over that stretch with 12 walks allowed. Even with the White Sox lineup having the ability to mash on lefties, they will have their hands full with Diekman.
The other name worth bringing up here is Oakland’s game two starter, Chris Bassitt. His 2.29 ERA is the most impressive among the starting rotation. In his last four starts, he really showed his value. The right-hander compiled a record of 3-0 while the A’s won all four contests. Bassitt allowed just one run over those starts, and 25 batters took or swung at strike three. At 31 years old, Bassitt has quietly, at least nationally, become the Athletics’ most dominant starter while getting hot at the right time.
A left-hander out of the pen that the White Sox could take advantage of is T.J. McFarland. His last five appearances didn’t treat him well. He allowed seven runs on 11 hits while striking out three over 4.2 innings. However, with him being a lefty, I would be hard-pressed to see him enter a game with a close score in this series despite what was said about Diekman earlier.
It’s only right to provide another name that could get knocked around a bit, and that’s the Athletics’ game one starter Jesus Luzardo. The 22-year-old southpaw appeared in 12 games for Oakland this season with nine of those being starts. He has also appeared in games as an innings eater, as well as in the later frames.
As for his starts, Oakland went 6-3 in games he grabbed the ball. Luzardo threw 49.1 innings, giving up 49 hits, nine of them home runs, 21 runs overall, and had 52 strikeouts. Batters had an average of .257 against the Parkland, Florida native in just under 50 innings of work.
Giving credit where it’s due, Luzardo is one of the Athletics’ most-prized prospects. He actually pitched the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings of a mid-September game against the Houston Astros in 2019 for his Major League debut. He ended up compiling 12 innings and 16 strikeouts to end his short stint with the club. Again, this season, teams have been able to get to him, so the White Sox have a chance to set the tone on Tuesday afternoon. They will have to do it early, however, as Luzardo is expected to throw a short outing before turning it over to the reliable Oakland bullpen.
Josh’s Prediction: For me, this series, as short as it is, will be decided in the first four or five innings of each game. Both teams have a few names in their pen that they can rely on to come in and shut it down. With that being said, the Sox offensive performance the last two games of the season made me feel a bit better moving forward, and I feel really good with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel on the mound for the first two games of the series. I’ll say that these two teams exchange punches in the first two, but ultimately the South Siders prevail in a close, high-scoring third game of the series to move on. Sox in three. Book it.
Jonnie’s Prediction: The White Sox are not ‘locked in’. They are not ‘ready’. It’s not ‘a new season’. Momentum matters in baseball. If you don’t believe that, then how did you feel when it was on the White Sox side throughout August into early September? The last ten games of the regular season proved that momentum is as far away from the White Sox as humanly possible, as the South Siders slid from the cream of the crop in the AL all the way down to the seventh seed.
Only a handful of guys have postseason experience on their roster. For as good as Lucas Giolito has been, he has also had his lapses. When he has the jitters, as he did in a big Opening Day start against the Twins, his command is putrid and a game can get out of hand early. I expect Oakland to embarrass a young and inexperienced White Sox team on the biggest stage by compiling some early runs in each game before handing it over to their effective bullpen. But hey, at least the Sox were regular-season offensive darlings. A’s in two.