The Chicago White Sox could play a role in determining a future playoff opponent when they kick off an important six-game sequence with the opener of a three-game series against the host Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night.
Chicago (79-58) begins its week well in command of the American League Central, but also well behind the Tampa Bay Rays (87-51) in the battle for top record in the league.
If they go on to win the Central, the White Sox likely would open the playoffs against the AL West winner, and at this point that could be any of three teams.
Coming off three straight losses at Toronto, the A’s (74-63) will take the field Tuesday as the third-place team in the West, chasing the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.
Oakland also is involved in a tight wild-card race, where they find themselves chasing the Boston Red Sox, who will visit the White Sox on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The last time the White Sox visited Oakland, a 2-1 series win by the A’s vaulted them into the second round of the AL playoffs last October while ending Chicago’s season.
The A’s had gotten into the 2020 playoffs as the AL West champions, while the White Sox were a wild-card entrant.
The clubs met in a rematch last month in Chicago, with the White Sox taking three straight before losing 5-4 in the series finale.
The opener of the Oakland portion of the season series is expected to be a matchup of rookie right-handers.
James Kaprielian (7-4, 3.87 ERA) has been announced as the Oakland starter, while Jimmy Lambert (0-1, 9.00) was promoted from Triple-A on Monday and likely will be the guy who replaces injured Lucas Giolito for Chicago.
The California natives have never squared off at the major-league level and have yet to face Tuesday’s opponent in their careers.
Kaprielian is unbeaten in his last five starts, going 2-0 with three no-decisions, with the A’s having lost his last two times out. He allowed 10 runs in nine innings against the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers in those starts.
The 27-year-old will be trying to put a patch on an Oakland pitching staff that’s been leaking oil. The A’s allowed a total of 43 runs in the final five games of their just completed 2-4 trip.
“I think the best part of our season is yet to come. I really do,” A’s manager Bob Melvin boasted after Sunday’s 8-0 drubbing by the Blue Jays. “I think we’re going to get home and play our best stretch of baseball. I think we’re going to get on a run before this season’s over.”
Lambert, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth from Triple-A Charlotte to the majors three times already this season. He’s gone 3-3 with a 4.98 ERA in 18 starts in the minors.
The 26-year-old last pitched for the White Sox on Aug. 1, when he held the Cleveland Indians to one run and two hits in the first three innings of a 2-1 win.
With a healthy lead atop the Central, White Sox manager Tony La Russa had other things on his mind on the off day Monday. He pleaded with Major League Baseball to change an error given to Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield in Sunday’s 6-0 loss to a hit, which would give Yoan Moncada a career-best 18-game hitting streak entering the Oakland series.
“He hit the ball sharply and it handcuffed the infielder. That’s a base hit,” he insisted Sunday. “Merrifield is a talented infielder, tried to get a glove on it and got handcuffed. It’s a base hit.”
–Field Level Media