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Wild Card Series, Game 1: A’s fall into old postseason habits in 4-1 loss

We’ve seen this game before, in 2019

MLB: Wild Card-Chicago White Sox at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Here we go again.

The Oakland A’s played their first postseason game of 2020 on Tuesday, and it went eerily similar to the ones they played the last couple years. Fortunately, this time it’s a best-of-three series instead of a one-and-done disappointment.

The A’s lost 4-1 to the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of the first-round Wild Card Series, on a day in which they seemed to be overmatched from start to finish. The key stat is that the Sox had as many homers as the A’s had hits, which tells you everything you need to know about the proceedings.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 | Game Thread #3 | Game Thread #4 ***

It was almost as if we weren’t watching a new game at all, but rather a rerun of the 2019 Wild Card Game against the Rays. The opponent hit a couple homers in the early innings to take a lead against Oakland’s lefty starter, while their own ace-level right-handed starter completely shut down the A’s lineup, and then the green and gold bullpen kept the score within reach but no comeback materialized. The final was only one run different than last year’s 5-1 result.

This time the other team waited all the way until the 2nd inning to go yard, as opposed to the last two years when it happened within the first two batters of the 1st inning. The culprit was Adam Engel, one of the least powerful hitters in Chicago’s order. Proper slugger and MVP candidate Jose Abreu added another in the 3rd inning, just like happened last year. And then Oakland’s top right-handed setup reliever of the season served up one more solo blast (to Yasmani Grandal) for insurance, same as in 2019 (this one off Joakim Soria, last year off Yusmeiro Petit).

On the other side of the ball, the A’s ran into the exact buzzsaw that everyone was worried about — an ace starter they haven’t played against all year. Like Luis Severino and Charlie Morton before him, Lucas Giolito was brilliant, even more so than his predecessors. Giolito was perfect through six innings, 18 up and 18 down, becoming only the fifth pitcher ever to do that in postseason history.

Oakland finally broke through in the late innings, as they often did in the regular season, but they weren’t able to mount a full comeback, as they often don’t in the playoffs. They at least busted the perfecto in the 7th, with a single by Tommy La Stella, and they even put together a rally when Giolito was (perhaps unwisely?) left in to begin the 8th. Mark Canha drew a leadoff walk, Jake Lamb singled him to third, and Ramon Laureano made just enough contact against reliever Evan Marshall to drive Canha home with a slow grounder. But Oakland couldn’t build on it from there, even after notching another single by Sean Murphy, and they went down in order in the 9th.

Note: That previous paragraph contained mention of every hit the A’s had in the game.

One bright spot in the loss was reliever J.B. Wendelken. The right-hander entered in the 4th and retired eight of the nine batters he faced, taking it through the end of the 6th and bridging from Jesús Luzardo’s rocky and brief start into the late-inning setup crew. It’s essentially what Luzardo himself did last year with three scoreless frames, and what Lou Trivino did in 2018 against the Yankees. Even the good part of the day was plagiarized from the previous scripts.

While this was almost exactly the same frustrating playoff game we watched last fall against the Rays, and reminiscent of the one before that in New York, there is a crucial difference: It ain’t over. There’s no single-game play-in this year, which means the A’s aren’t eliminated after one bad day. They can get this stinker out of the way, come back tomorrow, and play their way back into the series. They’ll have to beat Dallas Keuchel, but then again, the Sox will have to beat AL Pitcher of the Month Chris Bassitt, which isn’t an easy task these days either.

Game 2 begins at noon PT on Wednesday, televised on ESPN again.