The White Sox will be the No. 7 seed when the opening round of the postseason begins Tuesday. Instead of playing hosts to a series on the South Side, they will travel to take on the Oakland Athletics in Northern California.
Sunday’s loss in the regular-season finale against the Crosstown-rival Cubs, coupled with the Cleveland Indians coming back to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, sent the White Sox tumbling to third place in the AL Central standings. The Minnesota Twins won the division championship for the second straight season but lost their game in extra innings to give the A’s the No. 2 seed. The White Sox grabbed the first of the two AL wild-card spots.
It’s the first postseason matchup between the White Sox and A’s. It will be a matchup between two slumping teams. The White Sox roll into the postseason with eight losses in their last 10 games, and the A’s have five losses in their last eight games.
Even in the middle of their struggles, though, the White Sox have the offensive edge, still statistically one of the top hitting teams in the AL, while the A’s rank 10th in the Junior Circuit in OPS, just a few points higher than the Kansas City Royals.
The A’s are only a slightly better pitching team than the White Sox, with a barely better team ERA. But a former White Sox hurler, Chris Bassitt is one of the hottest pitchers in baseball right now. In four September starts, he allowed just one run in 26.2 innings.
White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Sunday that Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will start Games 1 and 2, respectively. As for who would pitch for the White Sox in an if-necessary Game 3, that’s a complete mystery after the three candidates — Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Reynaldo López — all struggled mightily during the weekend series against the Cubs.
The White Sox certainly aren’t playing their best baseball right now, losing each of the last three series they've played against playoff-bound teams, the Cincinnati Reds, Indians and Cubs. Saturday’s win served as a bit of a palate cleanser and provided a needed reminder of how this team got this far and what it is still capable of in the postseason. The White Sox staged an impressive comeback effort Sunday, starting the eighth inning down 10-1 before scoring seven runs in their final two trips to the plate.
But a 2-8 record in their last 10 games is not what the White Sox envisioned when they clinched their playoff spot a week and a half ago and owned the best record in the AL. It’s been mostly ugly ever since, and they’ve now run out of prep time.
Of course, the players have been adamant that what happens in the regular season has zero effect on what happens in the postseason. For a team that’s proven capable of flipping a switch and turning a sour stretch into a dominant run, maybe that will be the case again.
It’s time to find out. As Dallas Keuchel, one of the few members of the roster with ample playoff experience called them, “the real games” start now.
“Once you're in the playoffs, it's a whole new season,” catcher James McCann said Sunday. “Individual stats no longer matter. No one keeps up with the playoff (stats), the only thing that matters in the playoffs is wins and losses. So it doesn't matter who you line up against, starting Tuesday, that's when it matters most.”