The Royals kick off the second half of the season with a four-game set in Chicago, beginning with a day-night doubleheader today to make up for a rainout on April 25. The White Sox ended the first half on a high note, winning nine of their last twelve, but have otherwise had a disappointing season and sit tied for last place at 41-45, eleven games back of the Royals. The White Sox have actually out-performed their pythagorean expectation quite a bit this year, as their run differential would have them at 34-52. Despite this, manager Robin Ventura sits on the hot seat.
The White Sox brought in some high priced free agents last winter with Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche, but so far the offense has been a disaster. The White Sox are dead last in the league in runs scored with just 3.39 per game. They are last in on-base percentage at just .294 and are also last in slugging percentage despite 14 home runs from Cuban slugger Jose Abreu. Chicago has just four position players on the active roster who have a positive fWAR this year - Abreu, outfielder Adam Eaton, and catchers Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers.
The team recently promoted third baseman Tyler Saladino just before the break, and while Saladino is not a top prospect for the Sox, he is a favorite of manager Robin Ventura who prefers his defense over the weak glove of Conor Gillaspie. The White Sox are the worst defensive team in the league by nearly ever metric. Their -43 Defensive Runs Saved is seven worse than any other team, and 87 DRS worse than the Royals.
The White Sox staff is anchored by All-Star Chris Sale, who is having a "Zack Greinke in 2009"-type of year. Sale is dominating American League opponents this year, who are hitting just .206/.251/.323 against him this year. Sale leads the league in strikeouts-per-nine innings, FIP, and fWAR among pitchers. Despite those eye-popping numbers, his record is just 8-4 thanks to poor run support, poor defense, and a poor bullpen. Sale has a deep repertoire, with a two-seamer that can still sit at 95 mph, with a nasty slider and the most effective changeup in the league this year.
Royals public enemy #1 Jeff Samardzija will open the series, with the Royals reportedly scouting him for a potential trade. Samardzija tossed a four-hit shutout his last time out against the Blue Jays and is enjoying the best walk-rate of his career. Jose Quintana continues to be one of the most underrated pitchers, and will likely be underrated again because of his misleading 4-9 record. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, only four pitchers have more rWAR in the league than Jose Quintana. Quintana has been hurt this season by a high BABIP and left-on-base rate this season, and has also had three starts where the White Sox failed to score any runs for him. John Danks has the sixth-highest ERA among qualified starters. He has the eighth-highest fly-ball percentage and the worst value for his changeup out of any starting pitcher.
The White Sox bullpen is firmly in the middle of the league in ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate. Closer David Robertson has converted 19-of-23 save opportunities, with a 2.45 ERA. His 13 strikeouts-per-nine innings is fifth in the league, right behind teammates Zack Putnam, at 13.3. Lefty specialist Zack Duke hasn't dominated lefties, allowing a line of .216/.341/.378 against them. The White Sox are reportedly calling up prospect Frankie Montas and his 100 mph heater to be their 26th man for the doubleheader on Friday.
The last time these two teams met in Chicago, a brawl ensued. Hopefully the passage of time and the fact Yordano Ventura will not throw in this series will allow for cooler heads to prevail. The Royals can get the second half off to a good start by beating up on one of the worst teams in the league, but they have to keep their eye on the prize and not get distracted by those that would get under their skin.