The Chicago White Sox went into the final week of the regular season thinking about a division title and possibly the top seed in the American League, but after faltering down the stretch and losing six-of-seven games to the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs, the Sox will instead have to take on the Oakland Athletics in a road series to kick off the postseason.
The end of the season was a downer for a club that has defied expectations and delighted fans all season long, with their young talent making an immediate impact and veterans like Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu having monster seasons on the South Side.
Abreu, quite possibly the favorite to capture American League MVP honors, has been waiting his entire White Sox career to make it to the postseason, and he’ll be looking to help the Sox pull off an upset over the A’s at the Oakland Coliseum beginning on Tuesday afternoon.
Oddsmakers have the A’s listed as a slight favorite in the series, and rightfully so. The A’s are a team with impressive young arms in their starting rotation and some real pop in their lineup, but they’re also going up against one of the most explosive offenses in baseball this week, and they’ll have their hands full in the first two games of the series, as the White Sox will throw Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel to kick things off in the Bay Area.
With those things in mind, there seem to be several keys for the White Sox if they want to take down the A’s and move on to the American League Division Series in San Diego next week. First and foremost on that list, the very real question of how one of the league’s upstart teams will handle the bright lights (although only metaphorical lights at this point, as their first two games are set to be played during the daylight hours) of postseason baseball.
While the team certainly has players with postseason experience, including Edwin Encarnacion, Yasmani Grandal and Keuchel, they also have plenty of young players who have never played in the postseason, and the team’s struggles after clinching a playoff spot did nothing to dispel concerns that they may not be quite ready for the big stage.
That being said, the White Sox have repeatedly shown a “never-quit” attitude throughout this season, and that was apparent on Sunday, as they stormed back from a 10-1 deficit against the Cubs and very nearly won a game that would have earned them a division title. Every player was grinding out at-bats until the final out, and they very nearly stole away the title from the Minnesota Twins.
That being said, losing out on a chance to clinch the division title against a team that went into Sunday with nothing to play for except for reps for a couple of returning players isn’t exactly a confidence-booster, and the White Sox will have to try to generate their own momentum as the series gets underway in Oakland.
That’s exactly where another key to the series kicks in. The White Sox have absolutely crushed left-handed pitching this season, becoming the first team in MLB history to win every game started by a left-handed opposing pitcher during the course of a season.
The A’s will try to buck that trend on Tuesday as they plan to start Jesus Luzardo in the first game of the series. Luzardo made nine starts this season for Oakland and 12 appearances overall, with a 4.12 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 59 innings of work.
This decision by the A’s gives the White Sox a great opportunity to get off to a solid start in the series, and the team’s hitters will likely be licking their chops at the opportunity to hammer away at a southpaw in the series opener.
That is where having a pitcher like Giolito comes in handy, as he’ll likely give the offense the space they need to get their approach dialed in, much like he has throughout the 2020 season.
Even still, there are plenty of hitters the A’s will be able to rely on, including former White Sox infielder Marcus Semien and slugging first baseman Matt Olson, who led the team with 14 home runs and was the only A’s player to appear in all 60 games this season.
Robbie Grossman is also a threat, with 22 extra-base hits in 166 at-bats for the A’s. He also posted an OPS of .826 this season, giving Oakland another solid power bat to work with.
Above all else, the series between the two clubs will be an interesting one if for nothing else because it will give the teams a chance to play against a squad they haven’t seen this season. This year’s coronavirus-shortened season has left teams to face off exclusively against divisional and regional rivals, and it will be fascinating to see how hitters approach pitchers they haven’t seen this year, and vice versa.
That could be a good thing or a bad thing for the White Sox, of course. They’ll have the advantage of facing pitchers who can’t draw on many past experiences in facing them, but they’ll also have the disadvantage of going up against hurlers they’ve rarely seen up close, throwing from unique arm angles and throwing an interesting variety of pitches that they haven’t seen before.
The truth is we have no clue how things are going to shake out in these playoffs, with limited or no fans in the stands and with teams facing one another who haven’t shared the same field in 2020. The White Sox have a unique opportunity this postseason, and it will be fascinating to see how they’ll react to that chance.