The Chicago White Sox and host Oakland Athletics will play a deciding third game in their American League first-round playoff series Thursday afternoon. That much is known.
What remained a mystery well after Wednesday’s 5-3 Oakland win that squared the best-of-three series at 1-1 is which pitchers the White Sox and A’s will send to the mound for the deciding game.
A’s manager Bob Melvin finally decided about two hours before the first pitch to run with Mike Fiers in Game 3.
Fiers has gone 14-3 in Oakland since joining the A’s during the 2018 season. The White Sox have won just 21 of 47 games started by opposing right-handers this year.
The winner of Thursday’s game moves on to face sixth-seeded Houston in a best-of-five AL Division Series starting Monday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Having put everything they had into trying to win Game 2, managers Rick Renteria of the White Sox and Melvin asked for additional time at their postgame news conference to consider their options for the win-and-advance showdown.
“We have a lot of analytics we look at,” Melvin noted. “Based on what happened (in Game 1) and who’s available and how we look at our bullpen, all of those things will factor in. So, this will be a discussion.”
Renteria has fewer choices. He left possible Game 3 starters Reynaldo Lopez and Gio Gonzalez off his 28-man roster, then opted to use five-game winner Dylan Cease in relief on Wednesday.
That leaves right-hander Dane Dunning (2-0, 3.97 ERA) as the likely choice.
A 25-year-old rookie, Dunning made seven starts in the regular season, striking out 35 in 34 innings. He has never faced the A’s and was bombed in his two most recent starts, allowing nine runs (eight earned) and nine hits in a combined seven innings against Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs.
Dunning would be facing a lineup that hasn’t fired on all cylinders in the first two games in the series, even in scoring five runs in Wednesday’s win. Second-seeded Oakland was gifted two runs on a two-out, two-run error in the first inning, then finished with just seven hits — three fewer than the seventh-seeded White Sox.
Oakland was completely shut down by righty Lucas Giolito in Game 1, held hitless until the seventh inning in a 4-1 loss.
While the A’s have faced five elimination games in the past eight seasons, including one Wednesday, the White Sox haven’t had one since falling to Tampa Bay 6-2 in Game 4 of their American League Division Series in 2008.
“We all know what it means,” White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal assured. “I’m pretty sure they’re aware of what it means and what’s going on. We’ve just got to come back (in Game 3) and it’s do-or-die. Our season keeps on going or it stops (Thursday).”
Melvin opted not to go with left-hander Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50).
The White Sox ran their record to 15-0 when facing lefty starters this season when they beat Oakland starter Jesus Luzardo in the series opener.
Going with Fiers (6-3, 4.58) over Frankie Montas (3-5, 5.60) delays a bit of potential drama in the division series. Fiers was the whistleblower who prompted Major League Baseball to open an investigation of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Melvin and the Billy Beane-led A’s braintrust had a similar decision to make in last year’s AL wild-card game against Tampa Bay. They opted for Manaea, who served up four runs in two innings in a runaway, 5-1 loss.
Fiers was the team’s wins leader last year when he was passed over. He also was a candidate to start the AL wild-card game against the New York Yankees in 2018, a game in which the A’s opted to go the “opener” route with Liam Hendriks.
–Field Level Media