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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Cleveland Indians

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Cleveland Indians

As the 2019 season nears and the White Sox get ready to take on the rest of the American League, we're taking a team-by-team look at all 14 of their opponents.

The Indians have dominated the AL Central in recent seasons and are just three years removed from a trip to the World Series, just two years removed from that 22-game winning streak and a 102-win season.

But the Indians are not one of the American League's uber teams. In fact, despite having perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball, they seem to pale in comparison to the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Houston Astros. Somehow, in a weak division that features three teams that combined for more than 300 losses in 2018, it's hard to describe them as a playoff lock. They still have to enter 2019 as the favorites in the Central, but that's a status earned as much by the weak teams around them as it is by their own strength.

We'll start with the positives, though, the things that should send the Indians to a fourth straight division title, and of course that begins with the starting staff. The quintet of Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber features as many as four Cy Young candidates, depending on how much you like Clevinger — and that should be a lot after his 3.02 ERA and 207 strikeouts over 200 innings in 2018. And that was the fourth, yes, fourth most strikeouts of that group. Carrasco led the way with 231 (to go along with his 3.38 ERA). Kluber was his typically amazing self with a 2.89 ERA and 222 strikeouts. And Bauer, in only 27 starts, went all the way to 221 strikeouts with a rotation-leading 2.21 ERA.

That's four potential aces, right there, and there's no rotation in the game that comes close to that.

The Indians are also the home of two of the best position players in the game: Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Lindor will likely miss the start of the season while injured, but that doesn't strip him of his ability to mash, as he did last season when he launched 38 homers. But Ramirez was even better in 2018, challenging for the MVP with a .939 OPS, 39 homers and 105 RBIs. Those two guys are absolutely fantastic, and a better 1-2 punch than you'll find elsewhere in the AL Central.

And that's why the Indians should remain atop the division. None of the other four teams, including the Minnesota Twins, the only non-rebuilding squad of the four, have anything close to what the Indians have in their rotation and in the middle of their lineup.

Good thing for the Clevelanders, too, because the rest of this group isn't terribly imposing.

Edwin Encarnacion and his 32 homer, 107-RBI production was sent away so that Carlos Santana could come back to town, even though as an inductee of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame he never left. Santana had eight fewer homers and 21 fewer RBIs than Encarnacion last season. The quiet steadiness Michael Brantley brought to the proceedings is now playing for one of those uber teams in Houston, and there's still nothing replacing him in the outfield. The Opening Day outfield is projected to consist of Jake Bauers (a .201 batting average as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Rays last season), Leonys Martin (a sub-.300 on-base percentage in just 133 games over the past two seasons with four different teams) and Tyler Naquin (three homers and a .287 on-base percentage in just 80 games over the past two seasons). Former Colorado Rockies MVP candidate Carlos Gonzalez was signed to a minor league deal recently. He's no longer an MVP candidate but would figure to be an upgrade to that outfield. Jason Kipnis is well removed from his glory days, with a .704 OPS over the past two seasons.

Then cast your eyes to the bullpen, where you might expect to see Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. But those two departed via free agency for the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Brad Hand is still an All-Star closer, but this is a team that had claimed the relief corps as a strength for so long, only to finish with a relief ERA of 4.60, 25th out of 30 teams.

The Indians do seem, in certain areas, a far cry from the team that was good enough to reach the World Series and rattle off that 22-game win streak. But thanks to a weak AL Central, it'd still be somewhat surprising to see them toppled from the top of the division. They have a dominant starting staff and two legitimate MVP candidates. Who can compete with that. Not the Twins. Not the rebuilding squads in Kansas City, Detroit or on the South Side of Chicago. The Indians' window might be nearing its close. But it won't slam shut this year.

2018 record: 91-71, first place in AL Central

Offseason additions: Carlos Santana, Jake Bauers, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Plawecki

Offseason departures: Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Melky Cabrera, Josh Tomlin, Rajai Davis

X-factor: Brad Hand made the NL All-Star team with the San Diego Padres in each of the last two seasons, sensational in 2017 and quite good again in 2018. But his numbers were even better last season after the trade that sent him to Cleveland. He posted a 2.28 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 27.2 innings with the Indians.

Projected lineup:

1. Leonys Martin, CF
2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
3. Jose Ramirez, 3B
4. Carlos Santana, 1B
5. Jake Bauers, LF
6. Hanley Ramirez, DH
7. Tyler Naquin, RF
8. Roberto Perez, C
9. Eric Stamets, SS
*Francisco Lindor, SS, expected to start the season on the IL

Projected rotation:

1. Corey Kluber
2. Trevor Bauer
3. Carlos Carrasco
4. Mike Clevinger
5. Shane Bieber

Prediction: First place in AL Central

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White Sox pitchers Hamilton & Burr get a shoutout from Lin-Manuel Miranda

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USA TODAY

White Sox pitchers Hamilton & Burr get a shoutout from Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda has landed in Chicago and he made sure to give some his favorite teams, places and people in the city a shout out on Twitter.

Roughly five minutes passed before the playwright and actor of Hamilton fame quickly remembered to give a quick greeting to the White Sox and two specific members of the team.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton in "Hamilton: An American Musical" made sure to give a specific shout out to White Sox relief pitchers Ryan Burr and Ian Hamilton. The musical Hamilton of course discusses the infamous duel between Vice President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

White Sox pitchers Burr and Hamilton have been inextricably linked due to their last names, ever since  they first became teammates with the White Sox Class-A team in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2017. And they took their bond one step further in 2019, recreating the Burr-Hamilton duel in front of the entire Whie Sox team

Miranda is currently in Chicago for the opening and ribbon cutting of "Hamilton: The Exhibition". The exhibit will open on Friday, April 26.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.

Remember That Guy: Charlie O’Brien

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USA TODAY

Remember That Guy: Charlie O’Brien

Back in the day, Major League catchers used to wear a backwards helmet with a separate mask strapped to it.

The beginning of the end of those masks was September 13, 1996 in Toronto, when Charlie O’Brien introduced the hockey goalie-style catcher’s mask.

Remember that guy?

Charlie O’Brien was born May 1, 1960 in Tulsa, OK.  He was originally drafted in 1978 out of Bishop Kelley (Tulsa) High School by the Rangers in the 14th round, then again out of Wichita State in the 21st round in 1981 by the Mariners (that same year his college teammate Joe Carter was taken in the 1st round by the Cubs). Finally, O’Brien signed after being selected by the A’s in the 5th round in 1982, following a dynamic .359/.399/.659 season with 25 HR and 116 RBI in 87 games.  

O’Brien worked his way through the minors, reaching Triple-A Tacoma in 1984 and earning a 16-game trial with the Oakland A’s in June 1985. He caught the final inning of a 10-1 loss on June 2 in his MLB debut in Baltimore, and eventually collected his first MLB hit – a double off the Tigers’ Frank Tanana – on August 22, his first career start. With a couple of young catchers in Mickey Tettleton & Terry Steinbach blocking his path to the Majors, O’Brien was shipped from Oakland to Milwaukee in March 1986. He played well over the next two years in El Paso and Denver in the Brewers system, and he received another 10-game stint in the Majors in May 1987. O’Brien started 1988 back in Denver, but in June he was called up to the big club for good.

He served as backup catcher from Milwaukee to Queens (he was traded to the Mets in August 1990) to Atlanta (where he won a World Series in 1995) and Toronto, developing a reputation as a solid catcher. For his career, he threw out 37% of attempted base stealers, which is comfortably above the league average of 31%. He caught 13 pitchers who won Cy Young awards at some point, including a string of four in a row – Greg Maddux (1994-95), Pat Hentgen (1996) and Roger Clemens (1997).

Then there was that day in 1996 where he revolutionized catching, introducing the modern style of catcher’s mask. He got the idea for the mask while watching hockey, likely thinking about all the foul tips he took off the mask, wondering how to find a safer alternative. He worked with a few manufacturers and Major League Baseball to make the dream a reality.

In December 1997, O’Brien arrived in Chicago as a free agent signing by the White Sox. He collected three hits in the 1998 season opener, becoming the first White Sox catcher with three hits on opening day since Brian Downing in 1977. He only appeared in 57 games with the White Sox before a July 30 trade to the Angels, but he was with the Sox long enough to provide an important Chicago historical footnote. On June 6, 1998, O’Brien became the first White Sox player to hit a regular season home run at Wrigley Field. It came in the 6th inning off Kevin Tapani, and the two-run blast scored Magglio Ordoñez and gave the White Sox a 5-4 lead which they couldn’t hang onto, as they went on to lose 7-6.

In total, O’Brien played 800 games spread out over 15 seasons for eight teams. He hit .221 with 56 home runs in his career (and an additional homer in the 1995 NLCS), but his calling card was his solid defense, as well as being an innovator. His final MLB game was June 21, 2000 for the Expos in Montreal.

After his playing career, O’Brien (who wore No. 22 for most of his career) went on to own the Catch 22 Ranch in Northeastern Oklahoma, where he raises cattle and deer. Charlie and his ranch has been featured on the Pursuit Channel’s TV show “Deer Thugs.” An avid outdoorsman and hunter, he went on to form a company Charlie O’ Products, which sells hunting products. He also wrote a book The Cy Young Catcher along with co-author Doug Wedge, which chronicles his days in the Major Leagues.