By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND–Losing five of seven to close the regular season isn’t ideal, but winning the season finale is for the A’s.
“More than anything, it’s been a difficult season on some guys,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s a new, clean slate. You can really make up a lot of ground by having a good postseason.”
Winning or losing the final contest of a pandemic-truncated season prior to the start of an expanded postseason is just one aspect. The crazy world of major league-mandated tie breakers is the other confounding piece of this unique 2020 season.
The AL West champions rebounded from a 2-1 deficit on Sunday to defeat the Mariners, 6-2, and appeared set to host the Astros, a familiar and dangerous opponent, despite their losing record (29-31), the worst of the AL qualifiers.
But 45 minutes after the A’s win, the Twins fell to the Reds in Minneapolis, 5-3 in 10 innings, and that bumped the A’s to the two-seed and a matchup with the Chicago White Sox, the third-place qualifier from the AL Central with a record just one game inferior to the A’s (36-24).
Wait a minute. How’s that? The A’s moved up a seed, but drew a far more accomplished opponent in the process? Well, in the word of Rob Manfred, yes.
The pairings follow a familiar pattern: the eight qualifiers in each league are seeded 1-3 for the first place teams, 4-6 for the second place teams, and 7 and 8 for the best remaining records. What makes the process disjointed is the mixing of two seeding philosophies where the final two qualifiers aren’t the two best, third place clubs with a 60-game schedule that had each club playing just nine of the other 29 big league clubs.
Because of that, only one of the eight, opening series involve clubs that have played each other in the regular season (Blue Jays versus Rays). That leaves a lot of uncertainty, especially in the 48 hours leading up to the wild card openers.
Would the A’s rather see a familiar opponent with a losing record, or one with as good as record as themselves that they haven’t seen since March 3 in spring training?
We’re about to find out. This aspect will be appealing to them: instead of one opportunity in front of 50,000 adoring fans, the A’s will get three shots to win twice in the their stadium with no fans.
The winners of the Astros-Twins series and the White Sox-A’s series will advance to a ALDS pairing at Dodgers Stadium. Again two opponents with no recent familiarity in an unfamiliar ballpark.
The A’s have starting pitching options in Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers, Mike Minor, Jesus Luzardo and Frankie Montas, who enhanced his stature with a career-best 13 strikeouts in six innings on Sunday. Montas had muddied his postseason outlook with an ERA of 10.88 over his previous six starts overlapping the birth of his child and a subsequent paternity leave.
“I was going to take him out after five, but I really needed him one more inning,” Melvin said of Montas. “He came in before I said anything and said, ‘I want one more’ and then struck everybody out. I think that’s going to do wonders for him going forward.”
Chad Pinder returned from the injured list and entered the game as a pinch hitter, than designated hitter getting three at-bats. Pinder last played September 12, and he gives the A’s another option to fill the big shoes of Matt Chapman at third base.
The primary option at the hot corner, Jake Lamb homered leading off the seventh inning to give the A’s the lead for the first time, 3-2. The former Diamondback has 12 hits–seven for extra bases–in 13 games for the A’s.