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.

White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

White Sox can aid crusade to contend by adding some pop this winter

The White Sox hit four home runs Tuesday night, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But the guys who hit those round trippers have combined for just 31 of them this season.

Meanwhile, when Miguel Sano obliterated a baseball 482 feet in the third inning, he became the Minnesota Twins’ fifth player to reach 30 bombs this season. That’s the first time that’s happened in a single season in baseball history.

While you were sleeping, the high-powered Twins defeated the White Sox on a walk-off hit by pitch, one of the least powerful ways you can win a ballgame. But the team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes has won far more games this season by smashing baseballs into the stratosphere.

They’ll likely win an AL Central title on that premise, and while it’s not the only way to set yourself up as a World Series contender, in 2019 it’s one of the better ways. The top eight teams in the game in home runs are either going to the postseason or remain in a pennant race: the Twins, the New York Yankees, the Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Oakland Athletics, the Cubs, the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers.

So let’s bring this around to the White Sox, whose winter shopping list is beginning to take shape as they prepare to set their sights on the offseason.

We all know Rick Hahn and his front office will be targeting starting pitching, the general manager has said as much after the organization’s major league ready depth in that area was worn bare in 2019. We’ll have to wait to find out whether Hahn inks a top-of-the-rotation star or provides depth behind All-Star hurler Lucas Giolito. But that shouldn’t — nay, can’t — be the only area that gets a facelift.

The White Sox also need an everyday right fielder, the internal options whittled from bountiful to non-existent thanks to injuries and under-performance in the minor leagues this season. The White Sox could probably also use a designated hitter. While Zack Collins — one of the home-run hitters Tuesday night — is getting a lot of reps there right now, if this team has eyes on contending next season, they might not have the luxury of playing “let’s see what he can do” with Collins.

Those two positions would figure to provide opportunities for Hahn’s front office to add some desperately needed pop to this lineup.

The White Sox are in the middle of their final up-close-and-personal demonstration of what an influx of offseason power can do, playing against baseball’s home-run leaders in the Twins. No team in baseball has launched more homers than the Twins this season, which is by design after they spent last offseason adding Nelson Cruz, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Marwin Gonzalez, a quartet that combined for 104 home runs in 2018. This year, they’ve blasted a combined 95 with a week and a half worth of games left.

The power numbers are remarkable in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and in an era where the home-run ball is dominating, they’re doing it better than anyone. White Sox fans surely don’t need to be reminded of that fact. The Twins have hit 39 home runs against the South Siders this season, including 27 of them at Guaranteed Rate Field. Cruz, who is the only player in the bigs to hit at least 35 homers in each of the last six seasons, has hit eight of his 37 dingers off White Sox pitching.

While the White Sox likely won’t deviate from their rebuilding efforts just to copy the Twins, there’s no doubt they could use some additional power. They came into Tuesday night with the sixth fewest home runs in baseball, some of the game’s worst teams the only ones behind them. With the Twins using the longball to win a division crown and make themselves one of the best teams in the game, surely the White Sox could benefit from mixing some outside pop in with their cavalcade of young players.

They’ll likely get some help from Luis Robert, who belted 32 home runs in the minors this season a year after hitting none while battling thumb injuries in 2018. Nick Madrigal probably won’t do much for the White Sox home-run total, but a full, healthy season of Eloy Jimenez should. He’s en route to a 30-homer rookie season despite missing nearly 40 games. Jose Abreu certainly hasn’t been the problem, flirting with a career high in homers while blasting past his career high in RBIs. James McCann, Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson all had terrific seasons, but is a significant jump in home runs expected for 2020? Probably not.

So added power will have to come from the two holes that need plugging in the everyday lineup.

Who’s out there? Fans will jump right to J.D. Martinez, who’s expected to opt out of his deal with the Boston Red Sox and become a highly pursued free agent. Martinez would fit the bill, all right, with 35 more homers this season to bring his total since the start of the 2015 season to a whopping 183.

Martinez will have his fair share of pursuers, and it’ll cost some big bucks to make his opt-out worth it (even though the Red Sox would probably be happy to see his salary come off the books given their supposed financial pickle). But the White Sox have that much-discussed money to spend, and Martinez would solve their power deficiency as their everyday DH.

Corner outfield free agents to-be include Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna. If the disastrous Pittsburgh Pirates decide to let Starling Marte walk, he could add a career-high 23 homers to the lineup. Kole Calhoun could hit the market, and he’s past the 30-homer mark this season. He’s also the only lefty in that group, something that could matter considering the White Sox projected lineup for 2020 and beyond is heavily right handed.

And then there’s the trade market. But remember that the depth of the White Sox farm system doesn’t look much like it did a year ago, and it could be rather difficult for Hahn to create an appealing package of prospects that could fetch the kind of impact bat (or arm, for that matter) the team would like to add to the roster.

The opportunities are there for the White Sox to make some Twins-esque additions and ratchet up the power numbers in 2020. It won’t mean they’ll be mashing at a Twins-esque level — considering that no team in baseball has, even the ones also hitting homers in bunches — but it’s a trait that’s helping teams across the game win on a nightly basis.

The White Sox could help their crusade to contend in 2020 — to join that group of baseball’s best teams — by improving themselves in that area this winter.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: What we've learned about the White Sox in 2019

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: What we've learned about the White Sox in 2019

A lot has happened with the White Sox this season. Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey and Vinnie Duber cover it all. They discuss the great (3:00), the good (14:40), the bad (20:10) and the ugly (26:20). They also rate the moves the White Sox made last offseason (32:30)

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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