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Chicago White Sox Series Preview: An underachiever looks to get right against the Royals

The White Sox were supposed to run away with the division, but here they sit in the middle of the pack. Can a week against the Royals get them on track?

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

The White Sox were supposed to run away with the American League Central, but here they sit just two weeks from the unofficial first measuring stick of the season, Memorial Day, and they’re under .500. They’ve had some injury issues and some issues with struggles from proven players, but it shows how talented they are that they’ve had all the things go wrong that have gone wrong and they’re just a hot streak away from betting back on top of the division. Still, they need that hot streak. I think they thought they had it when they won six in a row in a streak that ended a little more than a week ago, but they’ve now lost four of six since and appear to be fighting it once again. Their offense is kind of a mess and their pitching staff has not been nearly as good as they expected, but they do have Yoan Moncada back now and they should be getting Lance Lynn back at some point sort of soon. If they can get Liam Hendriks on track, I still think they’re the best team in the division, but it’s a lot less clear today than it was six weeks ago.

Royals vs. White Sox Matchup Stats

Category Royals White Sox
Category Royals White Sox
Winning % .375 .485
Team wRC+ 85 90
Team xFIP 4.53 3.87
Run Differential -43 -30
Highest fWAR Zack Greinke, 0.8 Tim Anderson, 1.3

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 125 .336 .368 .504 2.4% 12.0% 160 1.3
Yoan Moncada 3B 24 .286 .375 .571 8.3% 25.0% 183 0.2
Jose Abreu 1B 136 .197 .272 .311 8.8% 18.4% 77 -0.1
Luis Robert CF 108 .304 .343 .451 5.6% 13.9% 138 1.1
Yasmani Grandal C 115 .165 .287 .216 14.8% 18.3% 58 -0.2
Andrew Vaughn DH 68 .262 .338 .508 7.4% 17.6% 153 0.1
Gavin Sheets RF 88 .232 .284 .415 5.7% 21.6% 108 0.1
AJ Pollock LF 77 .192 .221 .274 3.9% 23.4% 44 -0.5
Leury Garcia 2B 85 .198 .214 .309 2.4% 20.0% 51 -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
Reese McGuire C 64 .140 .164 .158 3.1% 18.8% -9 -0.2
Josh Harrison INF/OF 75 .149 .230 .254 2.7% 13.3% 47 -0.2
Adam Engel OF 76 .229 .289 .343 6.6% 26.3% 91 0.1

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 15 15.1 1 2 35.2% 7.2% 4.70 2.71 0.1
Kendall Graveman 15 17.1 0 1 24.3% 7.1% 1.56 2.81 0.5
Matt Foster 15 15.2 0 0 23.8% 6.3% 2.87 3.44 0.3

Royals vs. White Sox Projected Pitchers

May 16 - Johnny Cueto 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
Johnny Cueto (AAA) 4 15.2 0 1 27.0% 6.3% 5.17 2.56 ---
Brad Keller 6 36.2 1 3 15.5% 6.3% 2.70 3.95 0.4

Johnny Cueto will make his big league White Sox debut in this one against one of his former teams. Cueto has had some decent minor league peripherals with 17 strikeouts and four walks in 15.2 innings. Cueto had a decent enough year last season for the Giants, but he did it with a lot of smoke and mirrors. That’s not to discount a veteran’s ability to do that. We’re seeing it with Zack Greinke right now in Kansas City. His fastball was still very effective but everything else got hit pretty hard and he just couldn’t get swings and misses from his slider last season. He’s had plenty of time to work on some things to see if he can get some of that back, but at 36, it’s hard to imagine him finding another gear at this point.

Career vs. KC: 4 GS, 24.2 IP, 1-3, 4.74 ERA


Brad Keller had his first actually bad start of the season in his last one against the Rangers, giving up six runs on nine hits in 5.2 innings. It was just the second time he allowed more hits than innings pitched in a game. The upside is he had his most swings and misses of the season in that game, and his slider has continued to be a plus pitch for him this year. The White Sox have had their share of trouble against sliders this season, so maybe that’s something Keller should keep in his head as he tries to navigate through a struggling lineup that has the potential to be so much better.

Career vs. CHW: 17 G, 14 GS, 84.2 IP, 5-5. 3.30 ERA

May 17 - Dylan Cease vs. Jonathan Heasley, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Dylan Cease 7 38.0 3 1 36.9% 9.6% 2.55 2.54 1.2
Jonathan Heasley 1 3.1 0 1 5.6% 22.2% 2.70 7.34 -0.1

Dylan Cease has had one heck of a season with a lot of things coming together for him to have a great start to the year. He hasn’t given a ton of innings, getting through the sixth just twice and the seventh just twice. And he had his worst start of the year his last time out against the Yankees. But even in that terrible start, he struck out 11 in four innings of work so signs of dominance were still there. The big difference for him as he’s gotten better over the last couple years is he just isn’t walking the park like he was prone to do earlier in his career. His fastball averages a bit over 96 MPH and hasn’t been hit. He’s got whiffs rate higher than 40 percent on both his slider and his curve. The curve has been hit at times. And he shows his changeup occasionally, but that’s been hit. So the hope is really that he either doesn’t throw strikes or makes a mistake with a curve or changeup.

Career vs. KC: 10 GS, 54.2 IP, 3-2, 2.96 ERA


Jonathan Heasley gets a second start after a pretty big mixed bag in his first start against the Rangers. I wrote on Inside the Crown that I thought he gave a little too much credit to the hitters and nibbled way too much. Heasley agreed, which was nice to see. He got swings and misses. His changeup looked good, his fastball looked tough to hit and his curve was effective when he didn’t miss in the zone with it. He didn’t give up much of anything that was hard hit, so if he can avoid nibbling, he has a chance to have success against a struggling lineup. He just needs to avoid that nibbling because the stuff was as good as it has looked in any of his big league action.

Career vs. CHW: First Appearance

May 17 - Davis Martin vs. Brady Singer, 6:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Davis Martin (minors) 7 36.0 4 1 28.3% 6.2% 2.50 3.49 ---
Brady Singer 3 5.2 0 0 23.1% 3.8% 6.35 3.02 0.0

The Royals will get to see the big league debut of Davis Martin, who is a 2018 draft pick, so he should feel right at home pitching in this series with all the 2018 picks on the other side of the field. He’s had a great start to the season in both AA and AAA, though he hasn’t seen the strikeout success in two AAA starts. I don’t know a lot about Martin, but from reports, he doesn’t have top-end stuff, but knows how to use what he does have with solid command that has gotten a lot better since he was drafted. He sits in the low-90s with his fastball, has a decent curve and a usable changeup.

Career vs. KC: First Appearance


Brady Singer will make his return to Kansas City after a brief trip to AAA to get the start here. In AAA, he threw his changeup quite a bit and reports on it were that it was fine. And that’s all it needs to be given how good his sinker and slider can be. He just needs a pitch to show and as long as that pitch isn’t left out over the plate, he should be just fine. I’m skeptical we’ll actually see him use it, but I’m also the most hopeful I’ve been for him in a long time after hearing how much he’s thrown that changeup in his three minor league starts. I’m also curious to see if he lets loose a little more like he did when he had his few relief outings. If he can run it up at 94-96 instead of 92-95, things look a little different for him. I’m very intrigued to see a different Singer but won’t be surprised if what we see is more of the same.

Career vs. CHW: 5 G, 4 GS, 26 IP, 1-1, 3.46 ERA

May 18 - Lucas Giolito vs. Zack Greinke, 7:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Lucas Giolito 5 26.2 2 1 35.2% 8.6% 2.70 2.67 0.4
Zack Greinke 7 38.1 0 2 8.9% 1.9% 3.52 4.72 0.8

Lucas Giolito has had a bit of a tough time just getting on the mound this season having made just five starts due to an injury earlier in the year and being placed on the COVID-IL ahead of this game. He’s been quite good when he’s pitched, though, getting a ton of strikeouts this season after a bit of a down year last year that kind of started when they started doing the sticky stuff checks. While his fastball velocity is down to 93 or so, it’s still been a good pitch for him with a good whiff rate and opponents are hitting just .200 against it. His changeup remains his best weapon. He’s gotten whiffs on 56.6 percent of swings and allowed just three hits on it. He also features a slider that’s been hit hard and a curve ball. He has had reverse splits this year with righties having an OPS of 200 points higher than lefties against him.

Career vs. KC: 17 GS, 102.1 IP, 8-4, 3.43 ERA


Zack Greinke, like Keller, is coming off his first bad start of the year. I think you can chalk it up to Coors Field for him. That’s just not a park that is going to be friendly to a guy like him, though he did get 10 whiffs in the game for the first time this season. He just found himself struggling to finish the fifth in a game that he finally got some run support. He was also bound to regress some because no matter how few walks you allow, allowing that much contact is going to eventually come back to bite you. As I’ve said before, there are very few pitchers I’d trust more than Greinke to figure out how to get it done without strikeouts, but there’s always a limit. To update the stat I gave before his last start, he’s now faced 115 hitters since his last walk. The White Sox have the lowest walk rate in baseball.

Career vs. CHW: 29 G, 26 GS, 177.0 IP, 9-10, 3.97 ERA

May 19 - Vince Velasquez vs. Ronald Bolaños, 1:10pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Vince Velasquez 6 27.2 2 3 20.0% 9.6% 5.53 4.63 -0.1
Ronald Bolaños 5 13.0 0 0 15.3% 16.9% 2.77 5.60 -0.2

I don’t think the White Sox expected to have to use Vince Velasquez right away when they signed him as a free agent right after the lockout ended. He hasn’t been good either. First of all, I have no idea how he’s only 29 given that it feels like he’s been in the big leagues for 15 years, but I guess he didn’t debut until 2015. He comes at hitters with a fastball at 92-94, a slider that’s been hit pretty hard, a curve that’s actually been quite good, a sinker that’s been hit hard and the occasional changeup. He has had a huge reverse platoon split with a 1.062 OPS allowed to righties compared with .571 against lefties. He’s also struggled quite a bit when he’s behind in the count and he only throws a first-pitch strike 56.8 percent of the time, so you can do the math.

Career vs. KC: 3 G, 2 GS, 13.1 IP, 1-0, 4.05 ERA


The Royals haven’t announced Ronald Bolaños in this spot yet, but after Hernandez’s struggles in the last two starts, I have a hunch he won’t be making this start. But with the doubleheader and no day off until May 25, they’ll need to go to an alternate source. After he threw four innings in relief of Hernandez in Colorado with just one run allowed and four strikeouts against one walk, I think he’ll get that chance. He’s struggled with control in the big leagues this year, but was outstanding in Omaha and looked very good in a tiny sample at the big league level last season. The stuff has been good, but he’s thrown his slider more than any pitch out of the bullpen this season. Last year, he relied on his sinker that looked better last year than this season. He’s gotten whiffs on 44.1 percent of swings on it, so it makes sense that he’s gone to that well so much. I’m a bit concerned about the velocity drop from last season, but I’ve felt he at least deserves a look.

Career vs. CHW: 1 GS, 1.2 IP, 0-1, 27.00 ERA

Royals vs. White Sox Prediction

I’ve said that I can’t predict a series win until the Royals win a series. They’ve done that. And I want so badly to say they can win three of five in this series, but I’m just having a tough time. Not being sure about the starters in so many games makes it difficult, but also the White Sox are simply more talented than the Royals. I honestly think the Royals could win anywhere from one to four games this series, but I’m going to settle on two wins because I’m a coward and can’t go out on a ledge.

Poll

How many wins will the Royals get in a five-game series against the White Sox?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    5
    (5 votes)
  • 7%
    4
    (8 votes)
  • 35%
    3
    (38 votes)
  • 36%
    2
    (39 votes)
  • 16%
    1
    (18 votes)
108 votes total Vote Now