The 2020’s wild card series qualifies as postseason play as far as the record books are concerned, but it wasn’t the true test October poses in most years. The Oakland Coliseum is usually one of baseball’s rowdiest environments, and while the wives and families of A’s players did their best, they couldn’t quite make the facility buzz in the same way.
Independent of the setting, this October only arrived after 60 games rather than 162. The season posed its own tests in terms of endurance and durability, but there remains a difference between two months and six months. Four months, according to my TI-83.
Nevertheless, the three games against Oakland still presented the highest pressure and largest stakes many of the White Sox had ever faced, because at the end of the day, a mistake can bring the end of days. Five White Sox in particular handled these conditions better than the rest.
While Anderson faded from the batting title race over the last week of the season, he revived himself and became the first player to rack up nine hits in his first three postseason games:
It was especially appreciated given how hard Anderson slumped at the end of the regular season. James Fegan looked into the turnaround, and while Anderson wouldn’t reveal his secrets, it appeared that he fell into a habit of overloading with his legs, which threw off his balance and made life harder on his hands.
He righted that during the postseason, putting together a performance that was enough to back up his pre-series declaration that lefties shouldn’t face the White Sox. In the process, he earned the admiration of Chris Bassitt, the one Oakland Athletic who seemed irked by his bravado.
Anderson’s defense also followed him into the postseason, in which he played an error-free brand of baseball, but also couldn’t make a couple of tough plays on ground balls by Chad Pinder.
Neither of these plays are routine, but as we talked about before, Anderson’s shortage of conversions at the edges of his range is what keeps his metrics underwater. Statcast said Anderson went 0-for-10 this season on plays that had an estimated success rate of 40 percent or lower, which doesn’t pair well with his improved-but-not-immaculate handle on routine plays. At least Anderson saved a run on the second play by keeping the ball in the infield.
Still, just as we said before, the entire package is still enough to be a top-tier shortstop for a contender. If everybody hit as well as he did, the White Sox still might be batting.
It’s hard to do more with a postseason debut than carry a perfect game into the seventh inning of a relatively drama-free victory. A surprisingly long leash allowed the A’s to put a run on his tab in an unnecessary eighth, but it didn’t mar his effort.
Unlike Anderson, Giolito didn’t succeed the way he did in the regular season. He threw more sliders than changeups for just the second time in his last 25 starts, and even he seemed surprised by the extent James McCann reached.
“I was wondering that actually — do you know the number?” Giolito asked postgame. “I was thinking, ‘Man did I throw more sliders today?’ The gameplan was to definitely use the slider more today. Against that lineup, we knew the slider would be effective if it was working. So, McCann made it a point to call it a good amount early even in counts where in another start maybe we would throw changeups in those situations. He would call the slider.”
Giolito might not be as visually impressive as Trevor Bauer, and he might not be as statistically impressive as Shane Bieber, but what makes him a No. 1 starter is his ability to attack hitters in multiple ways. It’s a sight to behold, especially when guys like Dylan Cease and Reynaldo López can’t reliably repeat one.
We’d seen Giolito get a little overamped for previous big-time affairs, like his Opening Day start against José Berríos. With stakes higher than he’d ever faced before, Giolito looked his calmest. Everybody should have followed the tone he set, but for the bulk of the staff, perfect pitch was in short supply.
The areas in which Grandal excels — plate discipline and pitch-framing — are the areas that are the hardest to notice on a game-by-game basis. The areas in which he can be deficient — strikeouts and dropped pitches — often stand out, especially if they emerge at the wrong time. This combination has knocked him down the depth chart in previous postseasons, so I braced for a showing that could make the remaining three years on his contract feel like six years, or one 2020.
He did have the poorly timed catcher interference in Game 3 with Evan Marshall on the mound, even if that’s not a hallmark of his game (McCann had three interferences to Grandal’s zero during the regular season). But his presence was a net positive overall thanks to his strong plate appearances late in games. He went just 2-for-10, but it was a strong 2-for-10, as he homered twice and walked twice in his four late-inning plate appearances.
That’s not nothing, especially when stacking it up against the other big bats that played all three games:
- Yasmani Grandal: 2-for-2, 2 HR, 2 BB
- José Abreu: 1-for-5, GDP
- Luis Robert: 0-for-5, 3 K
- Yoán Moncada: 0-for-4, BB, 3 K
Grandal contributed four of the White Sox’s 11 RBIs and four of their six walks. He’s far from a perfect player, but at least his strengths came to play. Imagine the discourse if they didn’t.
Who was the White Sox reliever White Sox fans least wanted to see in the postseason? Jimmy Cordero. Which White Sox pitcher threw the most innings without allowing a run during the series? Jimmy Cordero.
Cordero stepped up after Keuchel’s Game 2 dud by throwing 2⅔ easy innings, freezing Oakland at five runs and giving the Sox offense a legit chance to get in the game. With 35 pitches on his right arm, it seemed like Renteria wouldn’t think of using him two days in a row …
… until unthinkable relief failure happened. When Cordero came out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of Game 3, he was the eighth White Sox pitcher out of nine to appear in the box score, and the only one to throw a 1-2-3 inning. He looked a lot more like the Cordero who posted the 2.75 ERA in 2019, rather than the one whose ERA topped 6 in 2020.
After a rough regular season exacerbated by overuse, he somehow thrived under those same conditions when it mattered most. Cordero might not have been the pitcher White Sox fans wanted, but he was the pitcher White Sox fans deserved. Usually that construct insults everybody involved, but not here!
Despite the success he enjoyed in his six seasons before coming to Chicago, Colomé had never pitched in the postseason. His introduction to October went as well as the rest of his time with the White Sox. Including his Game 1 save and his second scoreless inning in Game 3, Colomé heads into free agency with an enviable line for his White Sox career: a 2.21 ERA and 43 saves in 47 opportunities.
Sure, nobody enjoyed the way he did it. Colomé pitches like he knows a guy at City Hall who will rip up tickets for double parking, and he strikes out fewer batters with each passing month. There are no points for style.
Colomé can only be judged by his results, and if I were his agent, I’d stress that the White Sox were 51-6 when carrying a lead into the ninth inning in 2018. After Colomé arrived, the Sox went 92-1, or 93-1 when counting Game 3.
Looking at it this way, Colomé’s pace takes on a new light. He didn’t work slowly. He gave you time to savor the certainty.
(Tim Anderson portrait by Carl Skanberg)