The Oakland A’s begin their 2020 postseason journey on Tuesday at the Coliseum, and now we know which pitchers will lead them against the Chicago White Sox in the best-of-three Wild Card Round.
The A’s will call on Jesús Luzardo to start Game 1, and Chris Bassitt to start Game 2, reports insider Martin Gallegos. Bassitt was also named September AL Pitcher of the Month on Monday.
Meanwhile, Chicago will start right-hander Lucas Giolito in Game 1, and lefty Dallas Keuchel in Game 2, reports White Sox insider Scott Merkin.
Game 1: Luzardo vs. Giolito
In Luzardo, Oakland is rolling the dice on talent over experience. The rookie southpaw has made only nine starts in his MLB career, and his numbers this season are arguably only third-best in the rotation, but he brings powerful raw stuff that no one else on the staff can match. His upper-90s heater, plus his unhittable changeup and curve, are the reason he was a consensus national Top 12 prospect entering the year, and he was good more often than he was bad this summer.
Luzardo: 4.12 ERA, 59 ip, 59 Ks, 17 BB, 9 HR, 4.19 FIP, .307 xwOBA
He’ll celebrate his 23rd birthday the very next day after his start, making him one of only three Oakland pitchers ever to start a playoff game at age 22 or younger (joining Vida Blue and Barry Zito), per insider Andrew Simon. And yet still, Luzardo will not be in completely uncharted territory, as he pitched in the postseason last year — his three scoreless innings against the Rays in the 2019 Wild Card Game were one of the club’s only bright spots in a frustrating loss.
The A’s went out of their way to line up Luzardo for this game. His normal turn in the rotation would have been Saturday, but instead he came out of the bullpen Thursday for three innings. That gave him some work to stay sharp, but not enough to require full rest, which kept his schedule flexible for whenever Oakland chose to use him this week. The maneuver ended up making a difference, as otherwise he wouldn’t have been available on Tuesday, and likely not until Thursday for a potential Game 3.
His opponent represents something of a goal for Luzardo. Giolito is himself a former elite prospect, as high as Top 5 nationally, and they each debuted at age 21, but it took Giolito until age 24-going-on-25 to really settle in at the MLB level. When he did, in 2019, he got an All-Star nod and finished sixth in Cy Young voting, with a line that included 228 strikeouts. He didn’t miss a beat this summer after turning 26 in July, putting up similarly monster numbers and even tossing a no-hitter.
Giolito: 3.48 ERA, 72⅓ ip, 97 Ks, 28 BB, 8 HR, 3.19 FIP, .260 xwOBA
That xwOBA mark puts him in the top 10th percentile or so among MLB starters, and in terms of raw stats he’s allowed only 47 hits.
Game 2: Bassitt vs. Keuchel
Whereas the first game is a matchup between young rising stars, the second contest features two veterans over the age of 30. That’s just about where the similarities end, though.
Chicago turns to an established ace-level performer in the 32-year-old Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner and two-time All-Star. The lefty began to show potential signs of decline toward the end of his tenure in Houston, and only pitched half of 2019 after holding out for a contract, but he bounced back this summer with phenomenal numbers.
Keuchel: 1.99 ERA, 63⅓ ip, 42 Ks, 17 BB, 2 HR, 3.08 FIP, .310 xwOBA
It remains to be seen whether that uncharacteristically minuscule homer rate can be maintained, especially against an A’s lineup featuring plenty of righty power. Furthermore, Oakland should at least have the chance to make contact, as he doesn’t pile up strikeouts with a fastball that averages below 89 mph. He faced most of the current lineup in four 2018 starts, two of them quality and two of them bad, totaling 26⅔ innings, 15 runs, 16 Ks, 4 walks, and homers by Mark Canha and Chad Pinder.
Oakland offers the complete opposite in the 31-year-old Bassitt. While Keuchel has a long track record of greatness, Bassitt had a breakout campaign in 2020, including a finish that featured one total run allowed in his last four starts combined (26⅔ innings). Keuchel is lefty, Bassitt is righty. Keuchel throws upper-80s, Bassitt operates in the mid-90s. Even their backgrounds are foils, as Keuchel is a former A’s foe from the division rival Astros, while Bassitt is a former White Sox farmhand whom Chicago originally drafted in 2011.
Bassitt: 2.29 ERA, 63 ip, 55 Ks, 17 BB, 6 HR, 3.59 FIP, .288 xwOBA
The right-hander didn’t come completely out of nowhere, posting a 3.62 ERA and 4.30 FIP in nearly 200 innings in 2018-19 combined after returning from Tommy John surgery, but nobody would have predicted in the spring that he’d be starting Game 2 of a playoff series considering the other names on the roster. But the numbers don’t lie — he was the most consistently excellent starter on the staff this summer, and he’s also the hottest, as evidenced by his Pitcher of the Month honors.
These are two marquee matchups, one between young studs and the other between a pair of extremely different veteran standouts. For the A’s, the key will be capitalizing against a White Sox lineup that strikes out a lot and doesn’t draw many walks, so as to avoid their powerful homer barrage or at least minimize the damage those dingers cause. For the White Sox, the key will be forcing the A’s to string hits together into rallies after a summer of setting the table but then stranding runners in scoring position.
As for a potential Game 3, starters for that won’t be determined unless and until they need to be. Oakland might have everyone on the roster, though, including Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Mike Fiers, and Mike Minor, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Chicago’s options include Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, and Reynaldo Lopez.
First pitch for Game 1 is noon on Tuesday, televised on ESPN.