White Sox

Previewing the Cleveland Indians

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Previewing the Cleveland Indians

With the White Sox kicking off divisional play tonight against Cleveland (6:00, Comcast SportsNet), I turned to Lewie Pollis of Wahoo's on First to answer a few questions about the Indians:

Honest question: Is the Indians' rotation better off without the guy formerly known as Fausto Carmona?

It's hard to deny that. Carmona's sorry, Roberto Hernandez' DIPS numbers suggest that he was better than he looked last year (4.56 FIP, 4.18 SIERA), but we're talking about a low-strikeout worm-burner pitching in front of a questionable double-play duo (Jason Kipnis is still learning second base, and there's a lot of debate about Asdrubal Cabrera's defense) who's put up ERAs of 5.25 or higher three of the last four years. It's been five very long years since his breakout 2007 or maybe eight, since we now know that he's three years older than we thought.

All the major projection systems peg Hernandez for an ERA in the mid-to-high-4.00's, meaning he'd need a major improvement (an unlikely scenario for a 31-year-old with a distraction this big hanging over him) or some great luck in order to be even an average pitcher. The Indians might miss his durability (he's thrown 389 innings over the last two years), but between Jeanmar Gomez, Kevin Slowey, David Huff, Zach McAllister and Scott Barnes they shouldn't have much trouble replacing his production. I'm not sure Hernandez wins a roster spot ifwhen his visa issues get cleared up.

Is Shin-Soo Choo due for a rebound year? And, conversely, could Asdrubal Cabrera be in for a regression?

I'm definitely on board the Choo bandwagon for 2012. He's supposedly put his distractions from last year (his May DUI was the big one) behind him, and a good part of his struggles last year can probably be chalked up to bad luck (his .317 BABIP was way below his .351 career mark). Expecting a full rebound to his 2009-10 levels is probably unrealistic, but even if his power doesn't fully return he's still got his strong plate discipline. And don't forget that, despite his injuries, distractions, and slumps in 2011 he was on pace for a solid 2.7 fWAR over a full season.

Cabrera is in for some regression this year. He really slowed down towards the end of last year, which obviously is not a good sign for a player whose 25-homer power seemed to come out of nowhere. That's not to say that the improvement isn't for real, just that 15 homers is a more realistic expectation than 25. I see his average and OBP improving a little bit as he gets walk rate and BABIP back up a little bit, which will help to make up for his regressed power. Anyway, he'll be good just not as good as he was last year.
Jason Kipnis is a local guy -- what are your expectations for him this season?

I'm quite bullish on Kipnis this year. Basic principles of regression and small sample size say that he probably won't keep up the 135 wRC he posted in his 36-game debut last year, but just from watching him hit that's a real possibility. We're talking about a 25-year-old second baseman with solid plate discipline and real plus power. Don't be surprised if he goes 2020.

We know plenty about Justin Masterson (that he's really good), but give us a rundown of what to expect from Cleveland pitching this series.

First up is Josh Tomlin. Hope you're not looking to walk much in game one because his 1.1 BB9 rate was the best in baseball last year. The problem with Tomlin is that his stinginess with walks comes with a dearth of strikeouts, so he's really at the mercy of the Indians' defense. He's a flyball pitcher so he's generally good at keeping his BABIP down, but he also tends to be quite homer-prone...which makes the thought of him pitching at U.S. Cellular a little nerve-wracking.

Next (thanks to the need to creatively juggle the rotation around Ubaldo Jimenez' unfair suspension) you get Masterson. He's got a great sinkerfastball that's pretty much all he throws. You can always expect a lot of grounders from him, and while he doesn't do it as consistently he's got the stuff to rack up the strikeouts too as evidenced by this 10-punchout performance on Opening Day.

Finally, you'll draw Jeanmar Gomez. Most people expected him to start the year in Triple-A, but he beat Kevin Slowey for the final rotation spot with a strong spring (1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings). He's been a real pitch-to-contact guy in the past (.88 strikeouts and walks per inning) but that changed in Goodyear (1.12). I'm hoping he really has turned over a new leaf in terms of getting more strikeouts, but I'm not exactly sure what we'll see from him in his season debut.

And lastly, give us a projection for the series.

I'll say the Indians take the first game and that it won't be particularly close, but that's mostly because I don't know if I can handle another high-stress heartbreaker after this weekend's 37 innings of heart palpitations against the Blue Jays. I make it a point never to bet against Justin Masterson so Cleveland will take game two, and I suppose I'll let you guys win game three.

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

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GOOGLE IMAGES

Let's compare birthday boy Dan Pasqua to Daniel Palka

Daniel Palka was a phenomenon in 2018. But before there was Daniel Palka, there was Dan Pasqua. You might have heard the Palka/Pasqua comparisons on White Sox game broadcasts or within White Sox fan circles. Both are lefty sluggers with a similar build: Palka listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Pasqua at 6-foot-0 and 203 ppounds. Both led the White Sox in home runs in their age-26 seasons: Pasqua with 20 in 1988, Palka with 27 in 2018. And hey, they have the same first name and last initial!

Pasqua, nicknamed “The Hammer,” turned 57 years old Wednesday. Let’s learn a few more things about him.

— He was a teammate of John Elway (for four games with Oneonta of the New York-Pennsylvania League in 1982), Bo Jackson (with the White Sox from 1991 to 1993) and Michael Jordan (for four games with Birmingham of the Southern League in 1994).

— He was the 1985 International League MVP with the Columbus Clippers.

— He homered in his MLB debut on May 30, 1985, with the Yankees

— He was Sports Illustrated’s 1987 preseason pick to lead the American League in home runs. He finished with 17, only 32 behind Mark McGwire.

— He hit a Comiskey Park roof shot on May 30, 1989.

— He hit the last triple (and had the last RBI) in Comiskey Park history on Sept. 30, 1990.

— He hit a 484-foot home run, the third-longest by a White Sox player in Guaranteed Rate Field history, on April 27, 1991.

— He finished his MLB career with 117 home runs, tied with all-time great outfielders Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Ichiro Suzuki.

And finally, let’s compare Pasqua to Palka statistically. Since Palka had 449 career plate appearances through the end of the 2018 season, here's the duo's numbers through their first 449 career MLB plate appearances.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.