2020 Wild Card Round Opponent Preview – Oakland Athletics

After seven seasons of writing team previews here and at South Side Sox, it gives me great joy to present to you all my first postseason opponent preview. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s a look at the Oakland Athletics.

The story of the season

After an uneven start in July, the A’s went on a nine-game winning streak once the calendar flipped to August and never looked back. They finished their season 36-24, comfortably in first place in the AL West. However, similar to the White Sox, the Athletics aren’t heading to the postseason playing their best ball. They have a losing record since September 12, which was a few days after their best position player, third baseman Matt Chapman, was lost to season-ending hip surgery. Oakland was able to strengthen their roster at the trade deadline with a couple trades within the division, bringing in 2019 All-Star hurler Mike Minor from the Rangers and bat-first utility infielder Tommy La Stella from the Angels.

The A’s were one of baseball’s teams that had their schedule affected by COVID-19, as they were only able to take the field one of the eight days between August 27 and September 3. The result was five double-headers in the second half of the season, and those did not treat the A’s well. A 3-7 record in those contests did quite a bit to slow Oakland’s momentum in the second half.

The most notable on-field conflict for the Athletics was an Aug. 9 game against Houston, in which center fielder Ramon Laureano charged the Houston bench. He taunted the pitcher after getting drilled for the third time in the series, and after enduring a verbal onslaught from the Astro dugout, hitting coach Alex Cintron provoked him to escalate the ordeal. Laureano was slapped with a four-game suspension, while Cintron received 20 games.

Notable strengths

The A’s greatest asset this year has been their bullpen. It was a season for the ages for lefty setup man Jake Diekman, who appeared in over half the A’s games and didn’t allow a run until September 23. Diekman struggled with walks, but struck out too many hitters for it to matter. Aussie closer Liam Hendriks won the AL Reliever of the Month award for August and posted a 1.14 FIP on the season. Hendriks’ lone blown save was on opening night, and the A’s wound up winning the game anyway. Former White Sox farmhand J.B. Wendelken (acquired in the Brett Lawrie deal) was also excellent out of the pen; the A’s recently put him on the IL for undisclosed reasons, but he’ll be on the Wild Card roster. Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit have also been reliable in setup roles.

Offensively, it should come as no surprise that an Oakland team walks a lot. They have the fourth-best team walk rate in the majors at 10.7 percent, and of their lineup regulars, only Stephen Piscotty and Jake Lamb fall below ten percent. Despite not being a steal-happy team, the A’s have been the second-best baserunning team in the majors, with a surprisingly aggressive season from Robbie Grossman leading the way. Finally, a healthy A’s squad could likely be the best defensive team in baseball, but without Chapman’s prowess at the hot corner, it comes down a peg. In particular, the entire outfield is excellent, which is great for the spacious Coliseum.

Notable weaknesses

The A’s don’t have the type of top-end starting pitching that would be desirable in a short postseason series. Their best starters have been Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt, but neither is the type of world-beating ace that a team would feel great about throwing in a Game One. Bassitt is one of the gifts from the Jeff Samardzija trade that keeps on giving, and while he has a 2.29 ERA, the sinkerballer is more of a midrotation starter at his core. However, he comes into the playoffs as the hot hand on the A’s pitching staff, with only one earned run allowed over four September starts and strong peripherals to back up that performance.

Despite Manaea being very well-rested, the A’s seem like they’re not keen on feeding the White Sox a command-and-control lefty (the Sox feast on those!). Rather, they’re going to throw rookie Jesus Luzardo in Game One. While still left-handed, Luzardo is a hard-thrower with an excellent curveball, which might make him a little more well-equipped to deal with the free-swinging White Sox. In any event, Luzardo’s no ace, and is a less-than-optimal Game One starter for a playoff team.

While the A’s are able to keep the line moving with walks, they’re less effective at racking up base hits. The spacious foul ground at the Coliseum will artificially depress batting average, but the A’s .224 team mark is the 5th-worst in baseball. They’re a middling power team, which renders the offense approximately average on the whole. Grossman, first baseman Matt Olson, and catcher Sean Murphy are the lineup’s biggest power threats, and the latter two whiff fairly often.

How the White Sox match up

In drawing the Oakland A’s, the Sox got probably the most favorable matchup they could hope for. The White Sox lineup has problems with strike zone command and right-handed pitchers, but the A’s don’t have a power righty starter that can effectively prey on both weaknesses at the same time. The A’s bullpen is a nightmare matchup for any team, but Luzardo’s left-handedness and Bassitt’s middling stuff should give the Sox a chance to build a lead in the early innings of the first two games.

While the starters for the first two games have been announced, it’s still unclear how the A’s will play this from a pitching perspective. They already made the shrewd matchup-based decision to pull Manaea despite him being well-rested and ostensibly lining him up for a Game One start. Luzardo’s not a terrifying matchup either, but it would be pretty reasonable and A’s-like to deploy him as a stealth opener to get the Sox to prepare for a lefty and pull the ol’ bait-and-switch after a couple innings. The Oakland bullpen leans heavily to the right, and I wouldn’t be shocked if a strikeout-heavy righty like Jordan Weems might be used as a tandem “bulk guy” to help bridge the gap to the A’s high-leverage relievers.

Regarding a potential Game Three, the A’s don’t have a lot of excellent starting options to pick from. In addition to the aforementioned Manaea (who’s likely to be buried all series), Mike Minor can rack up the strikeouts, but is left-handed and has four disaster starts (starts with more runs allowed than innings pitched) to his name this season. Mike Fiers is right-handed and closed the season strong, but doesn’t have the type of bat-missing stuff that gives the Sox fits. Frankie Montas threw six innings of shutout, 13-strikeout ball against the Mariners on Sunday; he looms as the most dangerous potential matchup for a rubber game, but he’d be on short rest and probably wouldn’t pitch very deep into the contest.

From a lineup perspective, the A’s have had a much more balanced teamwide platoon split than the White Sox, though they’ve been a little better against right-handed pitchers. Dallas Keuchel will be a particularly tough test for them, as his ability to limit walks and power will ideally make the A’s try to beat him with singles, and they’re not great at hitting those. On the flip side, unless the Sox plan on rolling with a full bullpen day in a potential Game 3, the walk-happy A’s are likely to draw Dane Dunning, who recently struggled against a similarly patient Cubs lineup. A suddenly healthy and deep White Sox bullpen should give the Sox a fighting chance in a potential rubber match, but the A’s are likely to have a starting pitching advantage in the third game.

Probable Starting Pitchers

Probable Lineup

  1. Tommy La Stella – 2B
  2. Robbie Grossman – LF
  3. Marcus Semien – SS
  4. Mark Canha – DH
  5. Matt Olson – 1B
  6. Ramon Laureano – CF
  7. Jake Lamb – 3B
  8. Stephen Piscotty – RF
  9. Sean Murphy – C

Pitching

 

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Patrick Nolan
Patrick Nolan
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winningugly

Well done, pnoles. What’s your series prediction?

As Cirensica

I think the Sox take the series in 2 games.

ParisSox

whodis?

MarketMaker

Don’t move. He can’t see us if we don’t move.

HallofFrank

The battle of the bullpens should be fun. Hendricks, Diekman, Wendelken, Soria, and Petit have the advantage in experience, but you have to like the talent of Colome, Marshall, Bummer, Heuer, Foster, and Crochet more.

And how about this for wacky: Jimmy Cordero (6.08 ERA) has a lower FIP than Petit (1.66 ERA).

Willardmarshall

Would the White Sox be better off not trading with West Coast teams?

burning-phoneix

If Jose hits a dinger in the first inning, Sox are winning Game 1.

Papa Giorgio

Hey look at you

dwjm3

Do you guys think they are going to use Luzardo as an opener in hopes of minimizing our strength against lefties?

dwjm3

Lol should have finished reading your article before posting

HallofFrank

I see the Twins are added Kirilloff, who’ll make his major league debut in the playoffs. C’mon Sox: counter by adding Vaughn.

As Cirensica

Donaldson is out of the roster (injured)

ParisSox

this is great. thanks. Was wondering if you were going to do this. Alright , let’s do this!

metasox

Any concern about Giolito’s pitch count last time out, his high for the year of 119?

As Cirensica

3 hours before first pitch. I am so excited. This is a great feeling.
Go Sox.
That’s all.

lastof12

I’m nervous & excited for postseason baseball for da first time in 12 years for our Pale Hose! I hope TWTW plays heavily for our Sox.

BTW: what’s a South Side Sox?

dwjm3

Ricky still hasn’t released our lineup. He is probably in his office trying to convince Hahn to let him start Edwin

Oddvark

Leury is back!

theSKOT

Here is the whole roster. No Gio or Lopez on the pitching side. Collins added as a third catcher.

The #WhiteSox finalize their 28-player postseason roster prior to Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series, presented by @HankookTireUSA. pic.twitter.com/U0ZOBPF09s

— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) September 29, 2020

metasox

secret weapon
nice to see the band back together

shaggy65

The only AL matchup between two teams that would have made the playoffs even in a normal format. Should be fun!

joewho112

The White Sox’s transaction page says Leury was activated from the IL. Is that right? Is he on the playoff roster? https://www.mlb.com/whitesox/roster/transactions

joewho112

Also Collins added, Lopez and Gonzalez out

As Cirensica

Great news. I am dying to know today’s lineup. Leury over Mazara?

lil jimmy

My guess Engel over Mazara. Leury in Left. Eloy DH.

Greg Nix

The Tatis deal rightfully gets all the attention, but man that Samardzija trade was a disaster for Hahn. 28.9 bWAR going out, 0.5 bWAR coming back.

Ah well, today’s not the day to dwell I suppose. Go Sox, kick some ass!!

dwjm3

Leury gets the start..Hopefully Eloy is ready for game two

asinwreck

I mean, the argument for Leury in the lineup is he wasn’t ice-cold the last week of the season. The argument against is this is quite a high-stakes rehab assignment.

HouseOfTheRisingSox

Yeah, talk about being thrown back into the fire. Best of luck, Leury. We’re all counting on you. But even with months off, he has better chance of getting a hit than Edwin or Mazara

burning-phoneix

Would’ve honestly liked Jarrod Dyson in LF instead. I like Leury but he’s been out for months.

lil jimmy

Switch hitting gives Leury the edge here.

As Cirensica

Also, even limping, Leury has a better chance to hit against a LHP than Dyson who is hopeless against them

As Cirensica

No Eloy ????

Foulkelore

Yep, that hurts. At least Ricky said in a pregame interview that he could be available to pinch hit.

DougWW

Think you might have missed the biggest advantage – warm weather. If the Sox were at home right now in 50’s and wet, the hitters wouldn’t like it. 80 and sunny, I think that is the biggest thing. I am happy they are in Oakland not at home!