Mike Fiers is finally getting a postseason start. The right-hander will take the mound for the Oakland A’s in the deciding Game 3 of the 2020 Wild Card Series against the Chicago White Sox, reports insider Martin Gallegos.
Meanwhile, the White Sox will turn to right-hander Dane Dunning. The 25-year-old is a recent Top 100 prospect who debuted this season and made seven starts, with above-average results.
Despite owning a World Series ring, Fiers has never started a postseason game. He pitched an inning of relief for the Houston Astros in the 2015 ALDS, but didn’t participate in their 2017 championship run. Since coming to Oakland in 2018, the A’s have gone to the Wild Card Game twice, but he was passed over both times despite being a prime candidate for the assignment. Now his turn has come.
The A’s used rookie phenom Jesús Luzardo in Game 1, and newly minted ace Chris Bassitt in Game 2, both of which were sensible choices. The remaining options for Game 3 included Fiers, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, and Mike Minor.
If you’d asked in June, those other names might have seemed more appealing. Manaea got the nod for the Wild Card Game last year and he had a good season in 2020, but the White Sox showed in Game 1 against Luzardo that their perfect record against lefty starters is no joke, so perhaps he’s not the right fit. Montas was supposed to be the ace, but struggled for most of the season, beginning when he missed a game to back tightness. Minor was an All-Star in 2019 but was ineffective all this year, both before and after being acquired by Oakland at the deadline.
That leaves old reliable Fiers, who has never done anything except post consistently quality starts while wearing green and gold — he’s tossed 28 of them in 53 tries, with many more that barely missed the 6ip/3er cutoff but were every bit as effective. He arrived in mid-2018 and was good down the stretch, then anchored an otherwise struggling rotation throughout 2019 while tossing his second career no-hitter, and then this summer completed six innings more often than not while always keeping Oakland within reach. The A’s are 38-15 in games when he starts.
Fiers, 2020: 4.58 ERA, 59 ip, 37 Ks, 16 BB, 9 HR, 4.94 FIP, .320 xwOBA
The 35-year-old is having the same season we’ve always seen from him, though the ERA ended a bit higher in the small-sample of the abbreviated campaign. If anything he was his best yet this summer, as his Statcast xwOBA is 20-40 points lower than what he did for the A’s the last two years, and right around league-average (.314).
Then there are his career matchups against the current White Sox hitters:
- Tim Anderson: 6-for-13, 1 HR
- Yoan Moncada: 4-for-12, double
- Yasmani Grandal: 2-for-6, 1 HR
- Jose Abreu: 3-for-20, no homers, 2 doubles
- Edwin Encarnacion: 3-for-28, 2 HR, 7 Ks
- James McCann: 2-for-10, no extra bases
- Eloy Jimenez: 1-for-6, K
- Adam Engel: 2-for-5
- Leury Garcia: 2-for-9, 3 Ks
There’s some trouble at the top of the lineup, but if you want to neutralize the primary threats in the middle (Abreu and EE) then this is your guy. Those sluggers don’t have much experience or success against the A’s other starters either, but none have the lengthy track records against them that Fiers does.
Furthermore, he faced Chicago twice in 2019, and both times he shut them out for at least seven innings (total: 14⅔ ip, 0 runs, 12 Ks, 1 BB). It wasn’t against as good of a lineup as he’ll see on Thursday, but several of the same hitters were in there.
There are no guarantees against this powerful White Sox club, and it’s possible they could set the table ahead of one of those once-in-a-blue-moon Encarnacion homers and do some real damage. But how many times have we looked up to see Fiers walking off the mound after six innings, with just two runs on the board and Oakland in the lead, and not quite remember how we got to that point?
Or, the A’s could get creative. Fiers was nearly unhittable this year the first time through the lineup, so there’s an opportunity to piggyback a couple starters together and not let Chicago get in a groove against anyone (Manaea was also filthy the first time through). Fiers’ OPS nearly doubled the second time through (.547 to .997), though that was most likely small-sample noise — last year he was normal in this regard (that is, slightly better first time through), and his K:BB ratio doesn’t reflect the same difference as the less trustworthy OPS marks. But still, it’s an interesting note, and at the very least you’d expect any starter to have an extremely quick hook in this Game 3 situation.
Whatever the strategy, it’s just nice to see Fiers finally get the start he so fully deserves. He’s been a huge part of this recent run of contention, and now he gets to play in October — and it’s actually October now, as the calendar flipped today. There are legitimate arguments for why the A’s went other directions in the 2018 and ‘19 Wild Card Games, but both times it was easy to have a bitter taste in your mouth, that maybe they’d overthought themselves and should have just gone with trusty Fiers. Now, at long last, with the 2020 season on the line, they will.