OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Marcus Semien and the Oakland Athletics earned themselves a full playoff series at last as division champions.
For two years now, the A’s have stressed how they absolutely needed to win the AL West to increase their chances of a deep postseason run following consecutive defeats in the wild-card game.
"It’s a little different than last year for us and also in ’18 where it’s just one game and you want to be so perfect and win that game,” Semien said. “It’s a three-game series, we’re at home and play good baseball.”
Oakland gets its shot against the Chicago White Sox in the best-of-three wild-card round having advanced just once during 11 previous playoff trips since 2000, when they reached the 2006 AL Championship Series before being swept by Detroit.
Both clubs navigated a challenging 60-game regular season, bolstered often by their top sluggers. The A's finished 36-24, Chicago at 35-25.
Oakland will send 22-year-old lefty Jesús Luzardo out to start Game 1 on Tuesday. The White Sox went 14-0 facing left-handed starters this season.
“To be able to do it at a young age is a blessing,” said Luzardo, whose season was briefly delayed by a positive test result for the coronavirus despite never having symptoms. “I hope this is just the first of many.”
Right-hander Lucas Gioloto (4-3), who pitched a no-hitter against the Pirates on Aug. 25, takes the mound for Chicago.
“It's time to go to work,” Gioloto said of his playoff debut. “This is what we're playing for. Now that we're here, it's a brand new season. Everything that we did up to this point doesn't matter any more.”
Here are some things to watch for in noon local time games this best-of-three round at the Coliseum, with A's manager Bob Melvin saying “I don't like it” regarding the early schedule:
ABREU'S BIG BAT
José Abreu hit 19 homers — second in baseball — and topped the majors with 60 RBIs while playing in all 60 games and batting .317. Yes, he averaged an RBI per game.
Chicago lost seven of eight ending the regular season, two on walkoffs.
“It's a fresh start,” shortstop Tim Anderson said.
Matt Olson led the A's with 14 homers.
“I think a lot of the teams feel they're just getting going,” Semien said.
Semien and right-hander Chris Bassitt, Oakland's Game 2 starter, both were drafted by the White Sox and came to Oakland in the same December 2014 trade.
The connection might mean a little more if they had played with Chicago recently, but “that was so long ago,” Semien said. He has certainly paid attention to the White Sox from afar.
“They’re going for it this year,” Semien said. “I know a lot of those guys over there, primarily the same coaching staff besides the manager. It's going to be a battle. It's nice to be at home. I think we played them well at home in the past. Even though there's no crowd I just feel like it's a tough place for an opponent to come into.”
White Sox manager Rick Renteria sounded optimistic about left fielder Eloy Jiménez playing Game 1 though he has been nursing a sprained right foot that kept him out of the final three games.
Jiménez went through baseball work and was scheduled to run on the field Monday.
“So far so good,” Renteria said of Jiménez's status in Chicago's first playoff appearance since 2008. “I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to report something positive.”
Luzardo (3-2) has the opportunity to help Oakland get over a big hurdle: advancing. The A's want to show the baseball world they have the talent to go further — much further.
Sean Manaea returned last September to go 4-0 and earn the wild-card start over Mike Fiers before faltering. Liam Hendriks lost it the previous year at Yankee Stadium.
Luzardo struck out four in three innings of relief in the 5-1 loss to Tampa Bay in last year's AL wild-card game.
“I think getting my feet wet in postseason baseball last year really will help me a lot throughout this year and moving forward in my career,” he said. “I’m glad that they trusted me and gave me the confidence to go out there and throw three innings last year.”
The A's are missing a key part of their infield without Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, sidelined by a season-ending hip injury that required surgery. He hit 10 homers and drove in 25 runs.
Midseason additions Tommy La Stella and Jake Lamb have filled key voids.
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