There was so much combined heartbreak history shared between the A's and White Sox when they met in last fall's American League Wild Card Series, and someone had to go home heartbroken again.
That wound up being the White Sox, who bowed out of their first postseason appearance since 2008 after just three games. The A's won their first postseason series since '06 and snapped a record nine-game losing streak in winner-take-all playoff games, only to suffer defeat at the hands of the archrival Astros in the ALDS.
Translation: Both teams are hungry for more after taking big steps in 2020, and there's a chance that Tuesday's 9:40 p.m. ET series opener between them in Oakland -- MLB.TV's Free Game of the Day (blackout restrictions apply) -- serves as a potential October preview.
The A's, however, still have some work to do to ensure they punch another postseason ticket, meaning each and every game from here on out carries the urgency of playoff baseball. They'll face a tough test in the White Sox, who have looked like a leading AL contender since Opening Day. Here's a quick breakdown of Tuesday's AL Wild Card Series rematch by the Bay.
How they're doing
White Sox (79-58, 1st in AL Central)
A’s (74-63, 3rd in AL West)
The White Sox have led the AL Central by at least five games since the start of July, so they have enjoyed the luxury of looking forward to October. Health is their biggest priority right now as Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito nurse left hamstring strains and AL Cy Young Award contender Lance Lynn rests a balky right knee.
The A’s, who were right on the Astros’ heels in mid-August, are suffering through a freefall. The Blue Jays swept them over the weekend and Oakland has lost 15 of its last 22 games overall dating back to when its seven-game win streak was snapped on Aug. 13. The A’s held a two-game lead for the AL’s top Wild Card spot the morning that win streak came to an end, and now they enter Tuesday 3 1/2 games back of the second Wild Card, with the Blue Jays and Mariners tucked between them and the Red Sox.
With Carlos Rodón ruled unavailable for this series as he continues to deal with soreness and fatigue in his left pitching shoulder, Lambert, who was recalled by the club on Monday, gets the nod. Ranked as the White Sox No. 13 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the righty will try to earn his first career win.
Kaprielian has come back to Earth after carrying a 2.65 ERA through his first start following the All-Star break, but he is still one of several surprisingly solid starters in an A’s rotation that seems to buck expectations every year. Opponents are only hitting .223 against the rookie right-hander, but he has been susceptible to the long ball, allowing 17 homers across 97 2/3 innings.
The player to watch
This series should feature lots of offense, and if the A’s are scoring, Starling Marte is likely right in the middle of the rally. Marte has been the straw that’s stirred Oakland’s drink since he arrived before the Trade Deadline, leading baseball with 20 stolen bases (in just 32 games) and also ranking among MLB leaders with 47 hits since he first donned the Kelly green and gold on July 29. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Marte could become the first player to finish among the top 10 leaders in steals in both the American and National League in the same season.
Don’t forget him
Matt Chapman has largely struggled to hit this year, but you know what hasn’t slumped? His all-world defense.
Chapman entered Monday a full five outs clear of all other third basemen with 16 defensive Outs Above Average (OAA), also ranking third among all players (any position) in that metric. Looking at OAA compiled by third basemen since Chapman’s debut year in 2017, it’s Nolan Arenado in first, Chapman in second … and then nearly 30 outs to the rest of the field. Chapman is well clear of the field in that span when it comes to plays that force a third baseman to come in and charge the ball, so keep an eye out for dribblers topped his way when the A’s are on defense.
The White Sox didn’t prevail in last year’s AL Wild Card Series, but one of the enduring images from that matchup was the towering, 487-foot blast pounded by Luis Robert in the decisive Game 3 -- the longest homer tracked at the Oakland Coliseum since 2015.
Well, after about three months on the injured list with a torn right hip flexor, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award runner-up is back to crushing baseballs. “La Pantera” is hitting .367 and slugging .633 since he returned to the lineup on Aug. 9. Last week Robert showed off multiple tools, converting a 20% catch probability on Tuesday …
… and then clobbering this 452-foot tater into the Kauffman Stadium fountains on Saturday.
Number of note
José Abreu is on the cusp of history, but he’ll have to fight to secure it coming down the stretch. The reigning AL MVP Award winner entered Tuesday tied with Salvador Perez for the Junior Circuit lead in RBIs (103), which means he could take home the league’s RBI crown for a third consecutive year. The last player in either league to win three straight RBI titles was Cecil Fielder from 1990-92, and Fielder is, as of now, the only AL player to do so since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. In the NL, George Foster (1976-78), Joe Medwick (1936-38), Rogers Hornsby (NL, 1920-22) are the only ones with three straight RBI titles.