OAKLAND -- With so much uncertainty as American League teams shuffled between postseason seeds over the past week, the A’s and White Sox had no choice but to scout multiple teams in preparation. Both clubs can now streamline their focus after their Wild Card Series matchup against each other was cemented on the final day of the regular season.
Much of the chatter in the Bay Area over the final week of the regular season revolved around the possible showdown between the A’s and Astros, which seemed like destiny given the battles between the two division rivals over the past few seasons. It was a matchup that would have seen the A’s favored after dethroning Houston -- the postseason’s only sub-.500 club -- for their first AL West title since 2013 and going 7-3 in head-to-head contests. There was even a built-in storyline given the benches-clearing incident involving A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano and Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron back in August.
• AL Wild Card Series presented by Hankook Tire, Game 1: Today, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
But alas, that clash was scrapped when the A’s sealed the No. 2 seed after a 6-2 win over the Mariners on Sunday, handing off the No. 6 seed Astros to the No. 3 seed Twins, who lost to the Reds in their regular-season finale.
The White Sox finished with the No. 7 seed following Sunday’s 10-8 loss to the Cubs, returning to the postseason for the first time since 2008 with an exciting group of young players.
Today's postseason opener will mark the first meeting of the year between these two clubs.
The best-of-three series will take place at the Oakland Coliseum, where the A’s have played their best baseball with a 22-10 record, tied for the most home wins of any AL club. But the White Sox have proven more than capable of winning outside of Chicago, tied for the AL’s second-highest road win total with an away record of 17-13, although they historically have not fared well in Oakland, having lost eight of their last nine there.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
Game 1 is set for this afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m. CT/12 p.m. PT on ESPN.
White Sox: Eloy Jiménez was not in the Game 1 lineup after a right mid-foot sprain kept him out of action the final weekend against the Cubs. Manager Rick Renteria was cautiously optimistic he'd return in time for the opener, but Leury García, returning from surgery to repair a severed tendon in his left thumb, got the nod in left field instead. Right-handed hitter Adam Engel started in right field against A's southpaw Jesús Luzardo.
1) Tim Anderson, SS
2) Yoán Moncada, 3B
3) Yasmani Grandal, DH
4) José Abreu, 1B
5) James McCann, C
6) Luis Robert, CF
7) Adam Engel, RF
8) Leury García, LF
9) Nick Madrigal, 2B
A’s: The A’s stacked the top of their lineup with left-handers as a counter to White Sox ace righty Lucas Giolito. Chad Pinder got the nod as the designated hitter with Mark Canha starting in right field.
1) Tommy La Stella, 2B
2) Robbie Grossman, LF
3) Marcus Semien, SS
4) Matt Olson, 1B
5) Mark Canha, RF
6) Jake Lamb, 3B
7) Ramón Laureano, CF
8) Chad Pinder, DH
9) Sean Murphy, C
Who are the starting pitchers?
White Sox: Giolito (4-3, 3.48) finished second in the AL with 97 strikeouts and no-hit the Pirates earlier this season. He has a 1-1 career record against the A’s but has never pitched in Oakland. Giolito last pitched on Wednesday in Cleveland, so he will have five days off in between starts.
A's: The A's announced on Monday that Luzardo will make his first career postseason start in Game 1, followed by Chris Bassitt in Game 2.
Luzardo went 3-2 with a 4.12 ERA in 12 games (nine starts) and ranked second among Major League rookies with 59 strikeouts over 59 innings.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
White Sox: Just remember the name Garrett Crochet. The 21-year-old left-hander, who was the team’s top pick in the 2020 Draft, has been overwhelming since making his big league debut on Sept. 18. Crochet has the second-highest amount of pitches at 100 mph or above, although he has only pitched six innings over five games.
Alex Colomé remains the closer, seemingly adept at getting the last three outs in any way possible. The White Sox have a healthy Evan Marshall back in a setup role from the right side, along with left-hander Aaron Bummer, who was one of the better high-leverage relievers in baseball. Rookies Codi Heuer and Matt Foster made a huge impact in their first season, while Carlos Rodón and whoever falls out of the third starter mix from Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo López also will be available.
A’s: In a perfect scenario, the A’s would get five or six quality innings from their starter before handing it off to a dominant bullpen that finished the regular season tops in the Majors in ERA. Closer Liam Hendriks looms in the backend with an ability to go multiple innings, with the bridge to the right-hander established by left-hander Jake Diekman and veteran righty Joakim Soria. Yusmeiro Petit is A’s manager Bob Melvin’s go-to option for tough jams with runners in scoring position, no matter what inning the game is in.
The A’s will also likely have Opening Day starter Frankie Montas and recently acquired starter Mike Minor available in relief. Montas is particularly intriguing, as his already blazing fastball, which sits around 97-98 mph, could play up coming out of the bullpen.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
White Sox: Gio González left Sunday’s loss to the Cubs with a sore left shoulder. He was to be re-evaluated Monday but is unlikely to be part of the postseason roster.
A’s: J.B. Wendelken was enjoying his best season in the Majors -- posting a 1.80 ERA over 21 appearances -- until landing on the injured list last week for undisclosed reasons.
Any injuries of note?
White Sox: Aside from González, the biggest concern is Jiménez. He suffered the injury while scoring a run Thursday night in Cleveland and did not sound positive when talking to the media on Friday. But Renteria remains cautiously optimistic he will be ready.
A’s: Star third baseman Matt Chapman was lost for the season after undergoing hip surgery earlier this month. It was a tough blow, but the A’s have recovered with solid production at the hot corner from Lamb, who the club signed after he was designated for assignment by Arizona.
Chad Pinder (right hamstring sprain) returned on Sunday for his first game since Sept. 12 and appeared to have no limitations, going 1-for-3 with a clutch game-tying single. Feeling healthy, the right-handed hitting Pinder will likely platoon with Lamb, who bats left-handed.
Who is hot and who is not?
White Sox: Anderson was in the running for his second straight AL batting title, but he finished the year 6-for-46 over his final 11 games and checked in with a still outstanding .322 average. AL Rookie of the Year Award candidate =Robert had a miserable September, hitting .136 in 81 at-bats, but he hit in his final three games and had three hits Sunday. Abreu is a prime AL MVP candidate, having driven in 28 runs in September after driving in 29 in August.
A’s: La Stella has a case as baseball’s top midseason acquisition. Arriving from the Angels via trade on Aug. 28, La Stella solidified second base for the A’s, hitting .289 (28-for-97) with 16 runs, six doubles, two triples, a home run and 11 RBIs over 27 games. With by far the lowest strikeout rate in baseball, La Stella is a spark plug at the top of the lineup. Any A’s rally will likely involve him in some way.
Murphy usually stands out for his cannon of an arm behind the plate, but he enters the postseason as one of Oakland’s top hitters. The rookie catcher is hitting .277 with five home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs over his past 16 games.
Laureano finished 4-for-29 over his last nine games. His offensive numbers really took a hit upon returning from his four-game suspension, which was served Aug. 14-17 following his actions that led to the benches-clearing scuffle with the Astros. Prior to the suspension, Laureano was batting .262 with three home runs and 12 RBIs over 19 games.
Anything else fans might want to know?
The A’s perform at their best in the late innings. They went 6-1 in extra-inning games and led the Majors with six walk-off wins.
The White Sox are 1-8 over their last three years in Oakland.
Martin Gallegos covers the A's for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MartinJGallegos.
Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin and Facebook and listen to his podcast.