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Chicago White Sox Series Preview: A battle for the top of the AL Central

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The White Sox are without two big bats, but they’re still really, really good.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, it was the Royals and the Chicago White Sox atop the American League Central, but a brutal four-game series against the Indians has made this a three-team party and the White Sox are going to try to take that down to two teams to see if they can keep the Royals reeling. Of course, they’re not in as great shape as they were a week ago after the news that Luis Robert would miss 12 to 16 weeks, which in normal terms is about three or four months. That’s a huge chunk of the season, and even though they’re playing well, they are now relying on an outfield mostly of a rookie who has never really played outfield in Andrew Vaughn along with Leury Garcia and Adam Eaton. And when they aren’t relying on those two, they bring in either Billy Hamilton or Jake Lamb, who had never played outfield professionally before this season.

And the thing is, they’re kind of humming along okay. Liam Hendriks, their new closer, got off to a slow start but he’s been much better lately. The rotation has been really good and Lucas Giolito hasn’t really gotten going yet. It’s kind of a scary thought that this team could be better than they have been when they’ve been pretty good and that if they can stay this way, they should get Robert and Eloy Jimenez back toward the end of the season to boost the offense (and the defense with Robert) in a way that no other team will be able to boost in the last month of the year. The offense has its issues. Jose Abreu is following up his MVP campaign with something not so great. Yoan Moncada hasn’t bounced back the way everyone expected. And Royals thorn Tim Anderson has hit .243/.300/.351 over his last nine games. Oh and Yermin Mercedes doesn’t have a hit yet in May. It’s six at bats, but when a guy like him bursts onto the scene, you always wonder when the other shoe will drop.

Royals vs. White Sox Tale of the Tape

Category Royals White Sox
Category Royals White Sox
Winning % .533 .552
Team wRC+ 98 111
Team xFIP 4.35 3.54
Run Differential -14 36
H2H Wins 1 1
Highest fWAR Danny Duffy, 1.2 Luis Robert, 1.1

White Sox Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Tim Anderson SS 87 .298 .322 .464 3.4% 28.7% 124 0.9
Nick Madrigal 2B 97 .315 .361 .404 5.2% 4.1% 121 0.5
Yoan Moncada 3B 116 .263 .362 .394 11.2% 27.6% 122 1.0
Jose Abreu 1B 125 .208 .304 .396 11.2% 28.0% 101 0.3
Adam Eaton RF 108 .211 .299 .368 7.4% 25.0% 95 0.5
Yermin Mercedes DH 94 .386 .426 .614 6.4% 16.0% 195 1.0
Yasmani Grandal C 81 .121 .363 .259 27.2% 19.8% 100 0.3
Andrew Vaughn LF 68 .259 .353 .345 10.3% 27.9% 107 0.4
Leury Garcia CF 77 .192 .224 .233 3.9% 28.6% 31 -0.3

White Sox Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Zack Collins C 45 .211 .333 .342 15.6% 24.4% 101 0.2
Danny Mendick INF 22 .375 .545 .375 27.3% 22.7% 185 0.3
Jake Lamb INF/OF 28 .143 .357 .143 25.0% 28.6% 74 0.0
Billy Hamilton OF 25 .136 .208 .136 8.0% 24.0% 6 0.0

White Sox Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Liam Hendriks 12 11.2 1 1 42.2% 2.2% 3.86 2.23 -0.1
Aaron Bummer 11 8.2 0 1 26.2% 14.3% 2.08 3.40 0.1
Cody Heuer 11 13.1 2 1 27.6% 1.7% 6.08 2.66 0.1

Probable Starting Pitchers

May 7 - Carlos Rodon vs. Brad Keller, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Rodon 4 25.0 4 0 37.9% 9.5% 0.72 3.10 0.9
Brad Keller 6 22.1 2 3 13.6% 10.2% 8.06 5.53 -0.2

The Royals get to face the new Carlos Rodon who looks a lot like the Rodon the White Sox were pretty sure they were drafting back in 2011. He’s been a revelation this season as you can see from the stats above. You also might remember his no-hitter that was oh so close to a perfect game as well. After throwing 114 pitches in that no-hitter, he was still nasty in his next start but walked five in five innings and ended up not pitching again for nine days. Of course, then he went out and struck out 12 while walking one over six innings, so he seems fine. There’s not a huge secret to his success really. He’s found velocity again, averaging nearly 95 MPH on his fastball after it had dropped to the 91-92 range for the last couple years. His slider is particularly dominant right now, with a 48.9 percent whiff rate. Hitters are 0 for 25 on it. And his changeup is dominant too with opponents hitting just .188 on it. I always like to try to at least find some statistical weakness in a pitcher. With Rodon, it’s not easy. When a guy has allowed seven hits in 25 innings, it’s tough to find that. So here’s what I have. You ready? The first batter of the game against him is 1 for 3 with a walk so far. Yep, that’s it.

And on the other side is the anti-Rodon, Brad Keller. Keller has been successful the last three years and has suddenly turned into 2020 Rodon. That’s not entirely fair as Rodon did better with strikeouts and walks last season in 7.2 innings. Keller had another stinker on Sunday against the Twins. The defense was partially to blame, and that’s the risk of a guy who doesn’t get many strikeouts pitching in front of a rough defense, but Keller simply didn’t make the pitches he needed. The good news from that start is his slider was better. It wasn’t getting swings and misses quite like he’d like, but he did get a few. The bad news is that his sinker wasn’t working at all and his four-seam fastball was the slowest it’s been all season. The White Sox offense is missing some key pieces, but they can still hit, so to say I’m a little worried is a big understatement.

May 8 - Lance Lynn vs. Daniel Lynch, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Lance Lynn 4 24.2 2 1 29.9% 4.1% 1.82 3.27 0.9
Daniel Lynch 1 4.2 0 0 14.3% 19.0% 5.79 5.54 0.1

It’s been a month now, but Lance Lynn absolutely dominated the Royals in his second start with the White Sox, shutting them out and never really finding any trouble along the way with just five hits allowed and no walks. He made one more start before he hit the IL for a little bit with a strained trapezius and came back on Saturday to throw five solid enough innings against the Indians. He’s one of the few true workhorses in baseball now and was only able to throw 68 pitches coming back from injury, but I’m guessing he’s full load ready now. His fastball velocity was a bit down in that game, so maybe that’s something to watch for, but it wasn’t down that much either. After getting swinging strikes on 13.5 percent of pitches in his first three starts, that was down to just over 10 percent in that last start. One thing I find interesting in his splits this season is that he’s been otherworldly the first time through the order, but once the lineup turns over, he’s pretty ordinary. Opponents are hitting .294/.333/.441 the second time through and .263/.300/.421 the third time. Having seen him recently enough, I wonder if that will hold true for the Royals and if they can maybe even get to him early.

The second career start for Daniel Lynch is against a much tougher lineup than the first, but without Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert, it becomes a little bit less difficult to navigate. I said a little bit. His first start showed flashes of what he can be and, as I wrote on Inside the Crown, he made the pitches he needed to when he needed to make them. I thought that was especially encouraging. Now that the first start nerves are out of the way, I’d really like to see better command and control. It can be explained away as a first big league start, and I totally get that, but it needs to improve if the Royals hope is for him to help a pitching staff that is in danger of losing a hold on a fast start. His fastball looked very hittable in that first start, which is not something I expected from him, so hopefully we get to see a little bit more of the nasty fastball along with the slider in this one.

May 9 - Lucas Giolito vs. Mike Minor, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Lucas Giolito 6 30.2 1 3 30.6% 9.7% 4.99 3.35 0.3
Mike Minor 6 31.0 2 1 22.6% 9.8% 5.23 4.60 0.1

The White Sox ace has, well, not been an ace this season. He hasn’t been especially bad for the most part, but he’s struggled, especially recently. It started in a game where he was especially bad and I still can’t believe Tony LaRussa left him in to get pummeled by the Red Sox when he simply didn’t have it. He gave up eight runs in one inning with two walks and no strikeouts before the mercy pull when he came back out for the second inning. And he’s been fine in his last two starts, but not the dominant Giolito we’d seen the last couple of seasons after he figured everything out. Is this a situation where the Royals are about to catch him rounding into form or is it an opportunity to get him while he’s somewhat down? He’s gotten plenty of swings and misses over his last two starts, which makes me think he’s close to back. He did give up a home run on his changeup in his last start, which maybe means he’s still a bit on the struggle bus. It’s still a great pitch, which is a big part of his massive reverse platoon split that has righties hitting .269/.321/.577 against him and lefties hitting .188/.282/.304.

Mike Minor was not dominant in his last start, but after using his fastball so much less to start this season, he had his second highest usage of the pitch this year. The only other time he used it more was against these White Sox in a game he labored quite a bit in. He gave up just one run in that start, but only lasted four innings because it took him 85 mostly high-stress pitches to get through it. I really just don’t understand what’s going on with the fastball. It’s not moving quite as much, but his active spin is actually more than last season. Maybe it’s a small sample, but if his fastball is getting bat put to ball this much, it’s going to be a long two seasons.

Prediction

Baseball is a funny game. The White Sox have always been the more talented team between the two and obviously had their way with the Royals last year, winning nine of 10. We don’t really know what to expect from Keller, though the expectation is less and less each time out. Lynch is a wild card as well being his second start and Minor is a little bit up in the air as well. Based on pitching matchup, the White Sox have the edge in all three games, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple. I do think they end up taking two of three from the Royals and if you asked me if a White Sox sweep was more likely than the Royals winning the series, I’d nod and kick the pavement in disgust.

Poll

Can the Royals get back on track?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Yep, and they’ll do it with a sweep.
    (7 votes)
  • 17%
    Somewhat, yeah, the Royals will take two of three.
    (18 votes)
  • 43%
    Well they’ll get one win at least.
    (44 votes)
  • 31%
    Ha, no. Winless homestand. White Sox sweep.
    (32 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now