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Postseason ‘a fresh start’ for White Sox

The Sox enter the wild-card series against the Athletics having lost nine of their last 12 games.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson prepares for batting practice Monday in Oakland, Calif.
White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson prepares for batting practice Monday in Oakland, Calif.
Jeff Chiu/AP

The White Sox are backing into their first postseason in 12 years, having lost nine of their last 12 games, along with some of the thump that made them baseball’s darlings for much of the pandemic-shortened season.

They have two reliable starting pitchers and a manager, Rick Renteria, who’s making his first postseason appearance and leading at least 20 players who haven’t been there, either.

How Renteria manages his young bullpen may well determine the outcome of each game, and he’ll be opposed by the Athletics’ Bob Melvin, a three-time American League Manager of the Year.

But Melvin’s A’s lost one-and-out wild-card games with 97-win teams each of the last two seasons, lost another one in 2014 and lost best-of-five division series in 2012 and ’13, which goes to show the playoffs truly are a new season and short series are always up for grabs.

From a mindset standpoint, the Sox say they know this — and that they’ve turned the page on a successful 35-25 season that didn’t end well as they look to the first game of the best-of-three wild-card series Tuesday in Oakland (2 p.m., ESPN).

“It’s a fresh start,” said shortstop Tim Anderson, who was in a neck-and-neck battle with the Yankees’ DJ LeMeheiu trying to defend his 2019 batting title but had three hits and 14 strikeouts in his last 33 at-bats. “[Sunday] ended the regular season, so now it’s time to really dig in and work, keep rallying around one another.”

“We played well enough to be in this position,” Game 1 starter Lucas Giolito said Monday after the Sox’ workout at the Oakland Coliseum. “Now that we’re here, it’s kind of starting over.”

That stretch of .250 ball since clinching a playoff berth?

“That’s not even a blip on their memory scale,” Renteria said.

Said Anderson: “It’s do or die, so that’s going to play a huge role in guys’ heads. Every pitch matters. Everything matters, every out, every inning. So it’s time to definitely lock it in.”

Anderson brushed off the AL West champion Athletics’ status as the No. 2 seed and the Sox’ No. 7 placement in this new 16-team playoff format. The A’s lost five of their last eight and ranked 10th in the AL in OPS at .718 (the Sox were second at .779). What’s more, the A’s are starting 22-year-old left-hander Jesus Luzardo (3-2, 4.12 ERA), and the Sox are 14-0 against lefty starters with a .276/.351/.522 hitting line vs. lefty starters compared to .256/.318/.432 vs. righties this season.

“It’s a lefty, so we’ll take it,” Anderson said. “Nothing against him, but we have been doing good against lefties. I guess they haven’t done their homework, so hopefully we can go out and do what we’ve been doing against lefties and come out with a win.”

Luzardo pitched three scoreless innings in the wild-card game against the Rays last year.

“He looked like a veteran on the mound — he pitched really well,” Melvin said. “He’s composed, he’s got great stuff, he’s one of those guys who relishes these type of games. At a young age, that’s rare to see.”

A righty, and a tough one at that, awaits in Game 2. Former Sox Chris Bassitt is 3-0 with a 0.34 ERA and 25 strikeouts over his last four starts. He’ll be opposed by Sox lefty Dallas Keuchel (1.99 ERA).

After Keuchel, the Sox have no clear-cut choice to start a possible Game 3. There’s a sense they might have to wrap the series up in two games — a tall order against a fundamentally sound team with a bullpen featuring the lowest ERA in the major leagues.

“I don’t know if the game changes much,” Renteria said of managing for the first time in the postseason. “Maybe the importance of the moment, as there’s no tomorrow. Every pitch and everything that happens during a ballgame matters. Every position you put yourself in will be scrutinized, whether it’s a good or a bad move.

“Those things, you don’t think about.”

Like the last 12 games.

Let the new season begin.

Daryl Van Schouwen’s prediction: Athletics in 3.