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Everybody knew Lucas Giolito would be starting Game 1 for the White Sox back when they had the best record in the American League, so their fall to the seventh seed hasn’t changed the matters.
The A’s had a little more flexibility in which pitcher they could deploy, which makes their choice of Jesús Luzardo all the more curious.
It’s nothing against Luzardo, who posted a 4.12 ERA and a 4.19 FIP over 59 innings, with a respectable 59 strikeouts against 17 walks. He threw three shutout starts of five innings or more during the regular season, which also matches the number of unimpressive starts he had. He sits 95-96 with his fastball, and pairs it with a breaking ball he’s refined. He might not yet be a finished product, but he’s off to a strong start, and considering he turns 23 today, he still has time on his side.
It’s more that he’s left-handed, and the White Sox’s success against southpaws is well documented. They won all 14 games they faced a lefty starter, and while Luzardo doesn’t have a particular problem with right-handed hitters, he also doesn’t neutralize them in any particular way.
Tim Anderson joked that Bob Melvin might know exactly know what his team is up against in this department.
“Nothing against him, but we have been doing good against lefties,” Anderson said with a smile Monday. “I guess they haven’t done their homework.”
But the A’s boss of baseball operations indeed has a clue, and his own jokes …
Yes, the A’s are well aware that the White Sox, their first-round playoff opponents, are supremely tough on left-handed starters. They have a plan for that.
“Well, they’re really going to be surprised when they see Sean Manaea and Jesús Luzardo throwing from the right side,” vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane told The Chronicle on Monday morning. “That’s really going to throw them for a loop. We have a little something up our sleeve.”
Luzardo does have the edge over Giolito in postseason experience, as he threw three scoreless innings out of the bullpen in Oakland’s 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay in the wild card game. That probably factors into Melvin’s thinking, as does the idea that Luzardo has Oakland’s most talented arm available, and most of the lefties the White Sox have toppled don’t have his stuff.
I’d also suggest that it feels like a little bit of a trap, except the White Sox lineup doesn’t figure to be all that different whether it’s a lefty or a righty. Perhaps putting a lefty on the mound is a way to bait Rick Renteria into playing Edwin Encarnación before bringing in a Mike Fiers type for the middle innings, but I would hope that Renteria would play both his catchers and Adam Engel regardless, even if Eloy Jiménez is fully available.
If all those elements are in play, then the only tweaks involve the batting order, and I don’t think that makes much of a difference. The only real objections to Renteria’s lineups of late have involved Encarnación and his .157 average in the heart of things. The hope is that Jiménez is healthy enough to knock the three remaining questionable positions — DH, center field and right fields — down to the sixth spot and lower.
As for Jiménez, he’s trying to talk himself into the lineup after suffering a foot sprain during the Cubs series …
“A couple of days ago, I didn’t think I might play or something like that. I couldn’t even walk,” Jiménez said. “Today, I just ran. I’m feeling really good that I’m going to be available to help the team.”
… but we’ll see whether he plays and where later today before the White Sox’s 2 p.m. start on ESPN.
(Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)