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American League Wild Card Series Preview: A’s vs White Sox

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Oakland will face Chicago ace Lucas Giolito in Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon

That’s right, it’s the Wild Card series. Not the Wild Card game.

Due to the events of the last six years, the words ‘Wild Card Game’ will make any fan of the Oakland Athletics shudder.

After losing the winner-take-all single-elimination game in 2014, 2018 and 2019, the A’s will get more than one chance to advance in the 2020 Major League Baseball postseason.

Sure, it might be just one more chance to advance, seeing that the MLB has implemented an interesting first-round layout for what has been the strangest year in the game’s history.

Instead of a best three-out-of-five games format, the first-round Wild Card Series will be a best two-out-of-three games format, meaning that the A’s will need to beat the Chicago White Sox twice this week if they want to advance to the American League Division Series.

Oakland climbed above the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon to claim the number-two seed spot in the American League, setting them up for a clash with a young and exciting number seven-seed White Sox team.

The A’s will face 26 year-old Lucas Giolito (4-3, 3.48 ERA) on Tuesday, the ace of the White Sox staff.

Last season, the A’s faced Giolito once, a 2-0 win on August 11, 2019. The right-hander struck-out 13 Athletics batters, but didn’t have the offense to back him up in the loss.

Heading into postseason play, the White Sox have not been playing their best baseball, losing eight of their last 10 games.

2020 MVP candidate José Abreu (USA Today)

While the White Sox might have hit a rough stretch to end the season, their young and explosive lineup cannot be ignored.

Shortstop Tim Anderson just narrowly missed his second-straight American League batting title. Slugging first-baseman José Abreu is going to be a finalist for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Luis Robert could win the Rookie of the Year Award.

The list goes on. Not to mention that veteran designated-hitter Edwin Encarnacion and catcher Yasmani Grandal are in the lineup. There are no easy outs at any part of the White Sox order.

Oakland will face a familiar foe in Game 2, former Astros lefty and 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

While Cleveland Indians starter Shane Bieber has the Cy Young locked up for this season, Keuchel will be a finalist after a strong shortened season: 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

The A’s will combat Giolito and Keuchel with rookie Jesus Luzardo in Game 1 and right-hander Chris Bassitt in Game 2.

Luzardo is 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA on the season, with 59 strikeouts over 59 innings of action. Bassitt (5-2, 2.29 ERA) has been the unofficial ace of the Oakland staff in 2020.

Right-hander Frankie Montas turned in his best start of the season on Sunday, a two-run, 13-strikeout performance over the Seattle Mariners.

It’s unlikely that the A’s will start Montas against the White Sox, seeing that the 27 year-old would be pitching on only three day’s rest if he were to start a decisive Game 3 on Thursday.

Of course, anything goes in the postseason.

Luckily, the Athletics own one of the best bullpens in baseball, a tool that can shorten games for opponents. Expect manager Bob Melvin to give his starters a short leash, as there are plenty of weapons to utilize out of the ‘pen.

(Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Closer Liam Hendriks delivered another incredible season, locking down 14 saves and boasting a 1.78 ERA. Yusmeiro Petit (1.66 ERA), Joakim Soria (2.82 ERA) and Lou Trivino (26 K’s over 23.1 innings) also had strong seasons in 2020.

The A’s offense took a hit recently when All-Star third-baseman Matt Chapman was ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a hip injury. Oakland acquired utility-man Tommy La Stella and third-baseman Jake Lamb to fill the void, two acquisitions that have payed off nicely for the Athletics.

La Stella, a 2019 All-Star with the Angels, is hitting .289 with 11 RBI over 27 games with the A’s. Lamb, who missed most of the past two seasons due to injury, has played well in a sample size–three home runs with nine RBI and a .267 batting average over 13 games.

A’s infielder Tommy La Stella (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Oakland will need to hope that their new acquisitions continue to be productive, while big bats such as Matt Olson and Marcus Semien pace the offensive attack against the White Sox.

The A’s will have home-field advantage for the three-game series, with all three games taking place at the Coliseum–where the Athletics own a 22-10 record.

While the Athletics will be happy to be playing the high-stakes series within their own confines, the White Sox are no bunch of slouches on the road themselves.

Chicago is 17-13 on the road, which ranks third in all of baseball for best road record.

Game 1 will be pivotal, as Oakland will hope to avoid a similar situation to 2014, 2018 and 2019–a win or go home affair. Winning Game 1 puts the A’s in the driver’s seat with a little bit of breathing room.

Although there will not be fans in the stands, it will be a tense playoff atmosphere come Tuesday afternoon.

The only downside–both Game 1 and Game 2 will begin at 12:00pm PST.

Due to the packed slate of games with the expanded 16-team postseason, the MLB has made it’s schedule to resemble an almost March Madness-like layout, with games starting in the morning and ending in the late evening.

Oakland seems to have pulled the short stick, being placed in the noon slot for the first two games.

Day game or night game, the goal is still clear. The Oakland A’s have not won a playoff series since 2006. If the green and gold want to end that 14-year drought, they will need to upend a strong White Sox team.

Be sure to tune in for all of your Oakland Athletics playoff coverage right here on Sports 1140 KHTK. Catch Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon, with first-pitch coming at 12:00pm PST.