2020 MLB AL wild card series preview: White Sox vs. Athletics

For one team, it is back to usual and expected business. 

For the other, it is a newly formed task that will bring a new learning curve. 

These two factoids, of course, refer to the Oakland Athletics and Chicago White Sox.

With the playoff berth, Oakland has now played in the postseason in three straight seasons. More significantly, they collected their first American League West division crown since 2013. The White Sox, meanwhile, return to the playoff fold for the first time since 2008. 

To get to where they stand currently, both teams utilized different philosophies. For Oakland, the mantra has been (and continues to be) as simplistic as it sounds – gather up the homegrown talent and supplement it with low-risk, high-reward (and low-payroll) players.

The result from this direction has netted Oakland controllable and talented players, including Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Sean Manaea, supplemented by the likes of Marcus Semien, Mark Canha and Ramon Laureano, among others. 

After a lengthy rebuild was needed after a disastrous 2015 season, the White Sox have started to look like the legitimate contender they thought they would be that same year. Position players including Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez represent the relatively youthful crop that brings the hurt with the bat. When coupled with veterans in the form of Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion and AL Most Valuable Player contender Jose Abreu, the offense pops out from the top of the lineup to the bottom. 

Pitching-wise, Chicago’s philosophy of developing the stars and buying the supporting pitchers has continued, as Lucas Giolito (who was traded from the Washington Nationals during the 2016 offseason in the Adam Eaton trade) and Dallas Keuchel (who was signed to three years and $55.5 million during the 2019 offseason) anchor the rotation as they head into the postseason. 

Collectively, Oakland’s .718 on-base plus slugging (OPS) during the regular season, which ranked 17th in all of MLB. Chicago, meanwhile, had the eighth-best OPS (.779). When speaking in terms of home runs, Chicago hit 96 home runs, which ranked third. Oakland’s 71 home runs, meanwhile, ranked 18th. Regarding team ERA, Chicago’s team ERA of 3.81 ranked sixth, while Oakland’s 3.77 team ERA ranked just ahead of them (fifth). 

This series will put Oakland’s overall balance and experience against the sheer upside Chicago brings on both sides of the ball. If Oakland wants to shut down Chicago’s offense, they will need to get marquee innings out of their starting staff, which includes potential ace Jesus Luzardo. Should they shut down their offense, collect a few runs (even when they are without Chapman) and hand it off to their bullpen (who pitched to an MLB-best 2.72 ERA during the regular season), they will take care of business. 

If the White Sox score early and make Oakland’s offense play from behind, they will have the right idea. If they get enough clean innings from their pitching to boot, the South Siders might just pick up a series win. 

Oakland brings grit to the diamond. Given their low-payroll ideology, they must do so in order to offset the disadvantage. Chicago, however, brings an electric offense spearheaded by an MVP candidate in Abreu. When coupled with a rotation led by a developing ace in Giolito (who pitched a no-hitter during the regular season) and Keuchel (who has postseason experience), the roster upside will be too much for Oakland to counteract. 

Prediction: White Sox in three

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