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Chicago White Sox Series Preview: The best in the Central is getting healthier

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All sorts of injuries and they’re still up at the top of the AL Central and not going anywhere.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever any team complains about injuries derailing their season, it’ll be easy to point to the White Sox this year and what they’ve done. They’ve been without Eloy Jimenez all season. He’s coming back for this series. They’ve been without Luis Robert for most of the season. They’ve been without Nick Madrigal for a month and a half and he won’t be back. Yasmani Grandal is currently out. Adam Engel, who is inexplicably kind of good, missed a good chunk of the season. And here they sit at 59-40 and in commanding lead in the AL Central. It’s pretty impressive what they’ve been able to do this season through all of that. They’ve been quite consistent, never losing more than five in a row. They’ve also oddly not won more than six in a row, which is surprising given their pitching. But they’ve just been steady all season long.

Offensively, even without all the players listed above, they’ve been one of the best offenses in the American League. They haven’t done it with the long ball, though. The only team with fewer than them in the American League are the Royals. They just have a whole lot of good hitters up and down their lineup. And they’ve pushed pretty much all the right buttons on finding stopgap solutions while they work to get healthy. Even Billy Hamilton has gotten some big hits! But the real star of this team is the pitching staff. The Royals will see all their starters but Lance Lynn in this one, but they’ve all been at least average this season. It’s very impressive what they’ve done. Their bullpen has been fantastic as well. This is just an extremely well-rounded team that is suddenly getting healthier and has a chance to really run away and hide once they start firing on all cylinders.

Royals vs. White Sox Tale of the Tape

Category Royals White Sox
Category Royals White Sox
Winning % .433 .596
Team wRC+ 90 110
Team xFIP 4.52 3.84
Run Differential -87 115
H2H Wins 3 6
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 2.1 Carlos Rodon, 3.8

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 369 .304 .339 .444 4.9% 23.0% 117 2.8
Eloy Jimenez (2020) DH 226 .296 .332 .559 5.3% 24.8% 140 1.6
Jose Abreu 1B 397 .253 .335 .471 8.8% 23.9% 122 1.6
Gavin Sheets RF 70 .226 .300 .532 10.0% 21.4% 124 0.3
Yoan Moncada 3B 374 .274 .393 .416 15.2% 25.7% 131 3.2
Leury Garcia 2B 300 .246 .323 .346 9.7% 23.3% 90 1.0
Andrew Vaughn LF 307 .258 .319 .458 7.2% 23.1% 113 1.0
Adam Engel CF 70 .246 .329 .525 7.1% 15.7% 133 0.6
Zack Collins C 170 .217 .337 .371 14.7% 30.0% 101 -0.1

White Sox Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Seby Zavala C 25 .190 .261 .286 4.0% 36.0% 55 0.0
Brian Goodwin OF 134 .252 .331 .437 10.4% 23.1% 114 0.4
Danny Mendick INF/OF 141 .198 .300 .273 11.3% 24.1% 68 0.2
Billy Hamilton OF 104 .235 .255 .408 2.9% 32.7% 78 0.5

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 43 43.1 4 2 42.2% 3.0% 2.49 2.28 1.5
Ryan Burr 17 18.2 2 0 23.0% 13.5% 3.38 4.57 -0.1
Aaron Bummer 35 32.2 2 4 31.1% 13.5% 4.96 3.02 0.6

Probable Starting Pitchers

Monday - Dallas Keuchel vs. Mike Minor, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Dallas Keuchel 19 102.1 7 3 14.6% 7.5% 4.22 4.40 0.8
Mike Minor 20 112.1 7 8 22.7% 7.1% 5.45 4.39 1.7

After an outstanding first year in Chicago, it hasn’t been quite as great for Keuchel in 2021, but he’s still been a solid source of some innings for the White Sox. Outside of his rookie year in 2012, his strikeout rate has never been lower. His walk rate is in normal range and he’s getting a ton of ground balls, but when opponents lift the ball, it’s flying out. His changeup has continued to be very good for him, getting opponents to whiff on 28.5 percent of swings and his slider has actually been a swing and miss pitch too, but that’s the pitch he’s been having issues with as opponents have a .250 ISO on it. His changeup is what gives him a reverse platoon split, but it’s honestly pretty close, though lefties do have a 50ish point OPS advantage over righties against him. He’s also been considerably worse away from Guaranteed Rate Field, which is interesting given the small dimensions there. Oh and he’s also really turned into a five and dive pitcher with a third time through the order line against him that makes it very important to get him out quickly. It’s actually his first game against the Royals this season, but he’s 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA in 11 career starts against them, so there’s been plenty of success.

Mike Minor finally had a good start after a handful of bad ones in a row. It’s been such an up and down season for him, which I guess fits with the Royals up and down season. The majority has been down, but when he’s good, he’s been really good and he had it working against the Brewers last week. He gave up fewer than four runs for the first time since June 20 and didn’t allow a home run for just the second time since the start of June. This’ll be the fourth start of the season for Minor against the White Sox. One was great. His last time out against them, he allowed just one run on two hits over seven innings. The time before was not good and the first time was fine enough, but he only got through four innings.

Tuesday - Dylan Cease 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
Dylan Cease 20 102.2 7 6 29.5% 9.6% 4.21 3.99 2.2
Brad Keller 20 101.2 7 9 18.7% 10.5% 5.84 4.59 0.7

Dylan Cease has taken a lot of steps forward this season. He’s walking way fewer hitters than ever before, which was his biggest issue before the year started. He actually walked exactly three in each of his first four starts of the season and didn’t complete five innings in any of those starts. He still was fighting control from time to time, but since May 27, he’s walked just 7.5 percent of hitters, which is crazy for him. Of course, he also has a 5.02 ERA in that time, so maybe he’s a guy who needs to be a bit more wild. The Royals have seen him twice this year and he’s kept them off the board while pitching generally fine, so we know that he has a fastball that sits around 96 and three big-time swing and miss pitches in his curve, slider and changeup. The damage has been done on his fastball, which has seen a pretty drastic drop in spin rate over the last month. It averaged 2647 rpm in May and it’s at 3280 in July. Hmm. He has such good stuff, even without the spin, that he can get hitters no matter the count. His OPS allowed when he’s behind is still under .900, which is quite good. The Royals might have a chance to run on him, though, as he’s allowed 11 of 13 attempted steals to get there safely.

We’ve seen Brad Keller look good for stretches before this season, so there’s reason to be skeptical that this turnaround is the one that’s for real, but going back to before the break, Keller has put together three straight quality starts. And while, yes, he’s allowed three or fewer runs in six or more innings in each of them, I mean that they are actually quality starts. He has a 2.61 ERA over 20.2 innings in those games, which means he’s limiting the opponent while actually providing innings. And amazingly, he’s struck out 22 in those innings, so it’s almost like pitching to contact isn’t the best strategy. He’s incorporating his slider much more and it’s been really good, which has led to him being able to make mistakes in the middle because hitters are off balance. He’s back to limiting extra base hits and everything. This is a big test, but I feel much better about Keller today than I did a month ago. He’s faced the White Sox three times this year and was bad the first time, but honestly pretty fine the last two.

Wednesday - Lucas Giolito vs. Kris Bubic, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Lucas Giolito 20 119.0 8 7 28.2% 7.9% 3.78 3.83 2.4
Kris Bubic 17 68.2 3 4 19.1% 11.7% 4.72 4.93 -0.4

Lucas Giolito is another White Sox pitcher who has struggled a bit without the sticky stuff. His inflated numbers are really a product of two bad starts, though, at the end of April. Since then, he’s been really good, averaging about six innings per start with a 3.27 ERA and a good number of strikeouts. Since the start of May, he’s allowed more than three runs just three times and more than two just five times. It may not be that he’s really hurting without the sticky stuff, though he has seen a pretty significant decrease in spin on his fastball, but his changeup that has been so good for him since he figured things out a couple years ago has given him trouble. Opponents are hitting .367 against it this month and slugged .579 on it last month. It might be a coincidence, but that’s been a great pitch that hitters are figuring out right now. That’s the pitch that has given him a reverse platoon split with righties hitting for way more power against him. He’s another pitcher who has been way better at home than on the road, for whatever that’s worth. The Royals have actually hit him a bit this year, which is surprising and tagged him with a loss. He’s allowed six runs over 11 innings in two games against them this year.

Kris Bubic has bounced around so much this season, but he’s back in the rotation for at least a bit now and gave the Royals a really nice performance in his first start back against the Tigers, giving up just one run over six innings with four strikeouts and two walks. He was backed by three double plays, which is pretty helpful, but he looked generally good. A lot of that has been his willingness to work in his curve, which has been a pretty good pitch for him at times, though it has gotten hit pretty hard at times too. Against a White Sox lineup that is so righty heavy, nothing really matters for Bubic if he doesn’t have his changeup working. If he has that pitch, he’ll be able to handle them. If he doesn’t, he might not pitch into the fourth. He’s faced the White Sox once this year and it was in a long relief role after Daniel Lynch couldn’t get out of the first. He gave the Royals 5.2 innings of one-hit ball against them, so at least he’s had some success.

Thursday - Carlos Rodon vs. Carlos Hernandez, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Rodon 17 100.2 8 4 36.0% 6.9% 2.24 2.99 3.8
Carlos Hernandez 14 28.1 1 1 28.8% 15.9% 5.72 4.86 0.1

Carlos Rodon is such an amazing story. He was non-tendered by the White Sox and then brought back on a really inexpensive deal. Totally re-worked, he’s back to the guy they thought they were getting when they drafted him third overall in 2014. The numbers are unreal. Opponents are hitting .095 on his slider and are whiffing on 43 percent of swings. The only pitch that he’s had trouble with is his changeup, but he also only throws it 13 percent of the time. He’s given up two runs or fewer in 12 of his 17 starts and he’s given up fewer hits than innings pitched in 11 starts. Of course, the Royals were the first team to hit him around a little when they got him for eight hits back in mid-May. He’s since had a couple bad starts, but still has been mostly good. He’s coming off just four innings against Milwaukee and only 79 pitches, so he should be fresh for this one, which is pretty scary.

Carlos Hernandez had a rough one against the Tigers on Saturday night. He looked so good in the first, needing only seven pitches, but then command and control got the better of him and he didn’t make it out of the third. That’s really the story for Hernandez. If he has an idea of where the ball is going, he’s probably going to be pretty good for as long as he’s in the game. But he has that long arm swing that can cause some issues with that and because of it. As a team, the White Sox aren’t great with elite velocity, hitting .224 with a .342 SLG on pitches 96+ MPH. That’s what makes the command so important for Hernandez in this one. If he’s throwing it generally where he wants to, the White Sox likely won’t have an answer for him, but if he gets forced to live in the middle of the plate, it’ll be trouble because they’re hitting .292 with a .453 SLG on elite velocity over the heart of the plate.

Prediction

The Royals are playing great and the White Sox aren’t playing outstanding right now, but I think we all know which team is the better team. If Minor and Keller can pitch well, I think the Royals have a chance to split this series. Still, I don’t have much trust in this team’s starting pitching, especially against a really good team, so I’m going to say they scratch out one win, but that’s it.

Poll

Can the Royals stay hot and handle the White Sox?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    They’ll go from hot to lava hot with a four-game sweep.
    (15 votes)
  • 9%
    They can and they’ll take three of four.
    (13 votes)
  • 30%
    They might cool off a bit, but they’ll still split.
    (44 votes)
  • 37%
    Well they’ll win a game, which would have counted for hot a week ago.
    (54 votes)
  • 12%
    Nope, back to the freezer with a White Sox sweep.
    (18 votes)
144 votes total Vote Now