Wild Card Preview: Oakland A’s vs. Chicago White Sox

South Side vs the Bay. Who will advance in this best of three set?

(2) Oakland A’s vs. (7) Chicago White Sox


In advance of the Wild Card round starting today, we’re going to break down each series for you. In this article, we cover the second-seeded Athletics against the seventh-seed White Sox, broken down by Jai Correa and Zach Hayes, respectively.


Series Schedule


Game One: Tuesday, September 29th at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN – Jesús Luzardo vs. Lucas Giolito

Game Two: Wednesday, September 30th at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN – Chris Bassitt vs. Dallas Keuchel

Game Three (If necessary): Thursday, October 1st, TBD on ESPN – TBD vs. TBD




As is true of all interdivisional playoff matchups this season, these two teams have yet to face off in 2020, and their history in recent years is limited. Oakland has held a decisive advantage in recent years, winning 15 of 19 games since 2017, including a streak of nine straight at the Coliseum. Obviously, this is of limited importance, with the White Sox of 2020 suddenly bearing little resemblance to the 100-loss teams of the late 2010s.

There are still some connections to talk about. The White Sox will be staring their own farm system in the face, as several Oakland contributors originated in the organization. For as much credit as Rick Hahn must be given for executing a difficult rebuild — and he deserves a lot of credit! — we still have to acknowledge that the onset of the rebuild was hastened by the swap of 2019 MVP finalist Marcus Semien and Game Two starter Chris Bassitt for Jeff Samardzija prior to the 2015 season. Nor was the team ultimately helped by the deals that saw them give up potential Game Three starter Frankie Montas and setup man J.B. Wendelken in ill-fated deals for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.


Oakland A’s (36-24)


For the first time since 2013, the Oakland A’s won the AL West. Though despite winning the division, they’re once again stuck in a Wild Card game given baseball’s new playoff format. With superb relievers, the A’s were able to overcome a lack of offense and relatively underperforming starting pitching to become the American League’s second seed.

To best describe Oakland’s successes during the regular season and potential in October, we’ll look at their strengths, weaknesses, and upside.



The bullpen was the strength for this year’s A’s, posting a 2.72 ERA — the lowest in baseball. That relief corps was led by a dynamic tandem of Liam Hendriks and Jake Diekman. Hendriks followed a breakout 2019 campaign with 14 saves and a 1.78 ERA in 2020. Diekman was even more dominant, ending up with a microscopic 0.42 ERA while punching out over 13 batters per nine innings. With steady production from Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit, it’s easy to see why the bullpen was so great.



Season-ending hip surgery for Matt Chapman is undoubtedly a tough blow for Oakland. Chapman, while not posting his best numbers, was still crushing the ball to the tune a .303 ISO and .535 slugging percentage — the marks of a power hitter that Oakland has not gotten this season. Of course, no one can forget about his astonishing defensive work with 66 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) since the start of 2018 — easily the best in baseball at the hot corner with Colorado’s Nolan Arenado a distant second with 40 DRS.

From 2018-19, the Swingin’ A’s were mashers, ranking sixth in runs scored, fourth in home runs with 484, and a fourth-best wRC+ of 117. 2020 was the antithesis to those years, ranking 16th in runs, 18th in home runs, and a 101 wRC+ — 15th overall. Notable struggles include Matt Olson, Khris Davis, and Marcus Semien. Coming off a 134 wRC+ season, Olson ended up with a 103 wRC+ while pushing his strikeout rate to 31.4%, higher than the 25.2% in 2019. Meanwhile, Davis extended his poor run since the start of 2019, posting an 81 wRC+ in back-to-back seasons now while only hitting two home runs in 30 games in 2020. Semien broke out in 2019, with a .892 OPS and third-place honors in last year’s AL MVP voting. In 2020, the pending free-agent posted an anemic .299 wOBA and 91 wRC+.

If the aforementioned trio does perform to their lofty standards, Oakland should have no trouble setting up their relievers for wins.



Given Oakland’s woes offensively and dominant bullpen, the starting pitching will be critical to Oakland’s success in these playoffs.

Manager Bob Melvin announced that electric lefty Jesús Luzardo will start Game One with September’s AL Pitcher of the Month Chris Bassitt starting Game Two. Even though it hasn’t been announced, I’d assume Sean Manaea gets Game Three given his impressive 3.04 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in four September starts.

For one of Oakland’s brightest stars, Luzardo has been healthy enough for the A’s to give him a shot in the rotation. It hasn’t been the smoothest of sailing but there is room for optimism. Luzardo entered September 19th’s start against the Giants with a 4.32 ERA, a far cry from the talent expected from the left-hander. After tweaking his slider grip during a pre-game bullpen earlier this month, Luzardo then went out against San Francisco and threw a clean six-inning effort with seven strikeouts.

Game Two’s starter Chris Bassitt has been Oakland’s most consistent starter all season going 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA. He’s also white-hot right now, allowing just a single run over his last four starts, good for a 0.34 ERA.

Sean Manaea might have turned his whole career around, even though his season numbers might not show it. Just take a look at his four-seam velocity from each start this season.

After initial concerns with his four-seamer averaging below 88 mph in a Spring Training start against San Francisco at Oracle Park, Manaea has done nothing but improve ever since. The left-hander even touched 95 mph against the Padres in early September — how can you not be excited? Manaea’s rebound in velocity has made him a far more successful pitcher, allowing him to create a greater between his four-seamer, changeup, and slider while helping him get away with more mistakes in the middle of the zone. The lefty is Oakland’s wild card with a potential breakout in October on the horizon.


How They Did Against Each Other

The A’s and White Sox did not play each other this season since they were in different divisions, but we can still roughly estimate what we should be expecting from the A’s.

This exercise will come in the form of splits. The White Sox are a team with extreme splits given their right-handed heavy lineup.

wRC+ (Rank) 106 (11th) 143 (1st)

With Luzardo and Manaea likely pitching in this series, the White Sox should feel confident about their chances of putting up runs.

Jesús Luzardo .326 .296
Sean Manaea .306 .316

Luzardo is your prototypical left-hander, with his numbers more favorable against same-handed hitting than the opposite. Manaea is the opposite, slightly better against right-handed hitters than lefties. This could give the White Sox an advantage in Game One but against the right-handed Bassitt and reverse-split Manaea, there is a clear advantage for Oakland on paper.

Finally, Oakland was a much better home team (22-10) than on the road (14-14). An integral part of that home record was the pitching, as at home they had a 2.89 ERA and .264 wOBA — second and first in MLB, respectively.


Chicago White Sox (35-25)


Take solace, White Sox fans:

After being in the conversation for the American League’s top seed as recently as ten days ago, the White Sox ended their season by losing eight out of their last ten games, sliding to the seventh seed as Cleveland erased a six-game deficit to claim second place in the AL Central. Losing in September might not matter, but it sure doesn’t feel good, either.

Regardless of seed, the past 60 games have been an unquestioned success for the South Siders. We’ll get to individual successes and failures, but in the big picture, the Sox finally showed that they have the necessary parts for a true contender, in a year in which far from everything went right. There are gaps to fill, but Lucas Giolito is a capital-A Ace, and while the offense remains streaky, Statcast metrics and the eye test tell us it’s not fluky. The world may never know how it would have played out over 162 games, but having proven they can hang with the best over 60, this team looks to tackle their best-of-three series against the Athletics with a clean slate.



White Sox Projected Lineup

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs) 

The last 15% of the season did quite the number on the White Sox bats, as they averaged just under 3.3 runs per game over their last 11 contests after putting up an AL-best 5.5 runs per game up to that point. Nonetheless, even short one of their biggest thumpers, their lineup is full of tough outs, and the balance of Oakland’s rotation makes for a particularly appealing matchup:

The White Sox have yet to lose to a left-handed pitcher in 2020, going 14-0 and presenting a daunting matchup for Game One starter Jesús Luzardo potential Game Three starters Sean Manaea and Mike Minor.

Potentially having the platoon advantage for two of three games is not a small consideration for a lineup that may not be at full strength. Eloy Jiménez, the team’s second-leading run producer and second-most important bat by WPA/LI, is still questionable to play Tuesday with a sprained foot, and the lineup will continue to be fluid depending on availability and opponent. Jiménez is a terror for pitchers of either hand, but his replacement in the lineup, Adam Engel, does far more damage against southpaws (122 wRC+ since the start of 2019) than righties (79 wRC+). Sadly, Edwin Encarnación looks like he can’t catch up with a fastball anymore, and Rick Renteria indicated Monday that the DH spot remains fluid. James McCann’s relationship with Game One starter Lucas Giolito as well as his own colossal production against lefties (236 wRC+) means he and Yasmani Grandal may team up for the bulk of the team’s at-bats at catcher and DH in the series.

Should Jiménez remain on the bench or at less than full strength, the onus for carrying the offense will fall more squarely on MVP candidates Tim Anderson and José Abreu as well as struggling stars Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert. You probably know that Anderson and Abreu are on a warpath this year, largely backed by underlying metrics. Limiting the damage they do, perhaps by testing their plate discipline, ought to be the Oakland staff’s top priority.

Perhaps the most distressing part of a distressing season was watching the usually-spry Moncada struggle through the aftereffects of COVID-19, another reminder of the human cost incurred by choosing to play this season. Despite his funk, he’s hit in three of his past four games after a dismal 1-for-30 mid-September stretch, leaving some hope for an October turnaround. Similarly, Robert showed signs of life over the final weekend of the season after a dismal September, registering exit velocities of 98+ mph on his last seven (!!) batted balls of the season, after doing so just twice in the month up to that point. All eyes will be on Anderson and Abreu, but support — or lack thereof — from his countrymates will go a long way towards making things easy or difficult for this lineup.



White Sox Projected Rotation

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs)

Things are both clearer and murkier on the other side of the ball. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel have been as good anchors as any in the AL, with only Cleveland and the Astros getting more fWAR out of their top two starters. Giolito has struggled with control as of late, walking ten over his last three starts, but the stuff remains intact, striking out 22 over those 17.2 innings. He also has the advantage of only having seen this Oakland lineup once since his breakout last season; only four of their regulars have more than a tiny handful of plate appearances against him. Oakland has struggled mightily against offspeed pitches this year, and the White Sox would do well to take advantage of the fact that Giolito and his changeup are almost certainly the best pitcher and pitch in this series.

Start for start, however, Keuchel has been this rotation’s bedrock, working to a 1.99 ERA and giving up more than two runs just once in 11 starts. Working exclusively from the stretch and relying on a revamped cutter-changeup arsenal, his soft-contact approach was as effective as ever this year. The degree to which he overperformed his expected stats (.245 wOBA/.331 xwOBA) might cause fans to hedge their bets for a dominant Game Two outing, but as a bulldog on the mound with an abundance of big-game experience, the Sox will feel comfortable with him on the mound regardless of the first game’s outcome. The injured Matt Chapman is the only Athletic to have much success against him in the past, and Oakland players have managed just a .245/.306/.415 line over 173 PAs.



White Sox Bullpen

(Source: Baseball Savant; Fangraphs)

The biggest knock against Keuchel is that he simply can’t get past a lineup more than twice, with his OPS against rising from .346 to .549 to .931 the third time through the order. Without a true workhorse for Game Two and an uncertain third starter — Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, and Dane Dunning have failed numerous opportunities to claim the spot–the White Sox bullpen will be of preeminent importance after Keuchel’s second trip through Oakland’s lineup. As Eric Longenhagen wrote about earlier this year, the Sox bullpen has been one of the team’s unexpected strengths in 2020. Alex Colomé has continued to use his exceptional cutter command to beat his peripheral numbers, Aaron Bummer is healthy and still throwing one of baseball’s most unhittable sinkers, and Evan Marshall (2.45 ERA in 78 appearances since 2019) has quietly become a key cog on the strength of a well-spotted changeup and one of the game’s best curveballs.

Those are the names you’ll probably see in the most heated moments, but with the lack of depth and Oakland’s well-balanced, if patchwork, lineup, rookie standouts Codi Heuer, Matt Foster, and of course, Garrett Crochet may find themselves getting some late-inning burn. The precedent for a player going from college to the postseason starts and ends with Brandon Finnegan, but it’s not often that a pitcher comes out of the draft resembling an Aroldis Chapman clone. Colomé, Bummer, and Marshall have enough late-game, high-pressure experience that they likely won’t deviate from their typical roles, but if any pitcher were to falter in a tightly contested game, Crochet is liable to be deployed as a fireman in just about any situation.




Oakland has only won one playoff series this century, that being in 2006 in the Division Series against the Twins. Even though they’ve had better teams, particularly with more prolific offenses, this series marks Oakland’s best shot to break their lean patch. At home, with three viable starters against a slumping White Sox squad, an upset by the South Siders in this series would be a disaster for the team by East Bay. Oakland in 3.

– Jai Correa

Having lost two consecutive AL Wild Card games, these Oakland players are familiar with the pressures of a pennant chase and playoff baseball in a way that’s simply foreign to this White Sox team. Just five players — Grandal, Encarnación, Keuchel, Gio González, and Jarrod Dyson — have any playoff experience, and the series may hinge on whether the team’s young guns can master the playoff learning curve from the get-go.

While the offense may be licking their lips at Oakland’s glut of lefties, this is one of few matchups in which they won’t have the superior bullpen. The offense can explode in any inning, but it’ll be a tall mountain to climb if they’re pressed to win games against Wendelken, Liam Hendriks, or Jake Diekman. As the two best starters in the series, Giolito and Keuchel have the ability to carry the White Sox through to the next round. If either shows up with less than their A-game, however, it might be time to start looking forward to the next of what promises to be many October baseball series in the coming years. My heart says White Sox in two; my brain and gut say otherwise. Oakland in 3.

– Zach Hayes

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Jai Correa

Jai Correa is an alumnus of UMass Amherst. He is incredibly passionate about the Red Sox, Indian cricket and economics.

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