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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Houston Astros

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the Houston Astros

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.

There are three uber teams, three playoff locks in the American League. And these Astros are one of them.

The 2017 champs are coming into 2019 with a lot more questions than they've had since rising from the AL West's basement to be its dominant team (more on those in a bit), but they still provide plenty of reasons to be thrilled about their chances to put another ring on their collective finger.

The top four in their lineup is the best in baseball. Not even the New York Yankees with their Stantons and Judges or the now Harper-fied Philadelphia Phillies or the Cubs with three MVP candidates (when healthy) can compare. The defending-champion Boston Red Sox can, of course, with Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. But I'll still take the Houston quartet of George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. That's a pitcher's worst nightmare right there, four MVP candidates who can put up a ton of runs in a hurry.

I mean, trying to pick which one of these guys is the best is like trying to pick your favorite ZZ Top album: "Tres Hombres"? "Deguello"? "Fandango!"? "Eliminator"? It's impossible to choose!

Bregman's taking his turn as the star of the show, coming off an MVP-caliber season (he finished fifth in the voting, behind Betts, Mike Trout, Jose Ramirez and Martinez) in which he reached base at a .394 clip, hit 31 homers, drove in 103 runs, led baseball with 51 doubles and played a sensational third base. None of that should overshadow just how good the other three guys are, household names the lot of them at this point. But, and this will become a theme with these Astros, they're coming off relative down years.

The 2017 season was spectacular, with everyone in the lineup seemingly firing on all cylinders. Altuve won the MVP, Correa and Springer combined for 58 home runs, and Marwin Gonzalez had a season that landed him in the top 20 in MVP voting. Well, all those guys saw their numbers dip in the follow-up season, which isn't unexpected, nor did it drop them to league average status. But they'll all be looking for bounce-back campaigns, with Gonzalez doing it as a Minnesota Twin.

What was electric and helped the Astros get back to the ALCS, was the pitching. Justin Verlander, again, is still one of the best pitchers in the game at 36, fresh off a remarkable first full season with the Stros. He posted a 2.52 ERA with an AL-best 290 strikeouts in 214 innings last season. In still fewer than 40 starts as an Astro, he's got a 2.32 ERA with 333 strikeouts. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he's still dealing enough to be a reason to pick the Astros to win the World Series. So, too, is his rotation-mate, Gerrit Cole. Cole was just as spectacular in 2018, with a 2.88 ERA and 276 strikeouts in 200.1 innings.

But Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young winner and the owner of a 3.39 ERA over the last two seasons, is a free agent. Charlie Morton, who had a 3.36 ERA in two seasons in Houston, is a Tampa Bay Ray. Lance McCullers Jr., who had a 3.86 ERA last season, is out for the year with Tommy John.

Take those starting-pitching departures/absences with Gonzalez going elsewhere, a downgrade at catcher from Martin Maldonado (now on the Kansas City Royals) to Robinson Chirinos and the aforementioned down years for some of the hitters, and this is hardly a team without its issues. And that championship window could be shrinking sooner than anyone might expect from a rebuild that just recently bore championship fruit: Verlander and Cole are both free agents after the 2019 season.

The good news is they still have a fleet of All Stars, whether they're coming off elite seasons or not. Then there's the addition of another All Star in Michael Brantley, a big-time upgrade in left field who has quietly been one of the American League's most consistently good hitters in recent years, with a .311/.371/.475 slash line and a 1.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio since 2014. And the Astros' top two prospects are two of the highest-rated ones in the game: outfielder Kyle Tucker, who made 72 major league plate appearances in 2018 (with poor results), and starting pitcher Forrest Whitley, who had a 3.76 ERA at Double-A Corpus Christi last season.

So the good far outweighs the bad for a team that's going to be a runaway favorite to win a third straight division title in the AL West. This team would look a lot better, though, if it could convince the still-unemployed Keuchel to come back. We'll see how that works out.

But it's the Fab Four at the top of the order that will determine whether this is a second World Series season in three years for the Stros.

2018 record: 103-59, first place in AL West

Offseason additions: Michael Brantley, Robinson Chirinos, Wade Miley, Aledmys Diaz

Offseason departures: Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez, Charlie Morton, Martin Maldonado, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, Tony Sipp

X-factor: Brantley could turn that Fab Four into a Fab Five. No, he's probably not the MVP-candidate type like Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Springer, but he swings a nice bat, fresh off a .309/.364/.468 slash line, 17 homers and 76 RBIs — numbers that rate among the best of his career. As the fifth-best hitter in a lineup, those numbers are quite good and very valuable.

Projected lineup:

1. George Springer, CF
2. Alex Bregman, 3B
3. Jose Altuve, 2B
4. Carlos Correa, SS
5. Michael Brantley, LF
6. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
7. Tyler White, DH
8. Josh Reddick, RF
9. Robinson Chirinos, C

Projected rotation:

1. Justin Verlander
2. Gerrit Cole
3. Wade Miley
4. Collin McHugh
5. Framber Valdez

Prediction: First place in AL West

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Moncada's moves help seal White Sox epic extra innings win

Moncada's moves help seal White Sox epic extra innings win

To say the 2018-19 White Sox have had an up-and-down season would be an understatement. The season has been filled with more good than bad for sure‒three All-Stars, 42 wins, one possible Rookie of the Year candidate‒but their seven-game losing streak coming out the All-Star break certainly seemed taxing.

Chicago’s Leury Garica-fueled bounce-back win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday certainly helped spirits but Saturday’s dramatic, extra-innings win at Tropicana field could be the type of win that really gets the team back on track.

It looked like the White Sox were headed for their eighth loss in nine games. They were down to their final out when catcher James McCann decided to add another chapter to his storybook season.


 

McCann took a slider from Rays relief pitcher Emilio Pagán 373-feet out to left field for the game-tying home run.

It was another huge moment in a great season from McCann, heightened by the fact that there were so few baserunners (total) in this game and that another o-fer in the scoring column would’ve marked the second shutout loss in a week for the White Sox.

Instead, McCann’s heroics extended a game in which the White Sox bullpen‒2 H, 0 ER‒was excellent in relief of Lucas Giolito, who also pitched well.

Over 6.2 innings, Giolito racked up 9 Ks while giving up 7 hits, 1 walk, 1 earned run. The lone run Giolito gave up was a high changeup that former White Sox outfielder Avisaíl García.

This game was without a doubt a pitchers' duel, so it was only fitting that the game-winning run was scored on an RBI-single by  José Abreu in which Yoan Moncada personified "Ricky's boys don't quit" on the basepaths.


Despite the lack of strong offensive production on Saturday night, the White Sox were able to grind out the win in a Giolito start, something that has been a recurring theme for the squad.

As elder statesmen Abreu hinted at, the White Sox need their key players back but wins like Saturday’s will help build confidence in the meantime.

The South Siders head into Sunday’s noon game with the Rays‒and their subsequent series with the Miami Marlins‒with their seven-game losing streak further in the rearview mirror and that is the best news we could hope for as we await the cavalry.

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White Sox place reliever Kelvin Herrera on injured list with oblique strain

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USA TODAY

White Sox place reliever Kelvin Herrera on injured list with oblique strain

The White Sox saw another pitcher hit the shelf due to injury on Saturday.

Ahead of their game against the Rays, the White Sox placed reliever Kelvin Herrera on the 10-day injured with a right oblique strain. In a corresponding move, the team recalled right-hander Jimmy Cordero from Triple-A Charlotte.

Entering the 2019 season, Herrera was expected to be a formidable late-game reliever in the White Sox bullpen alongside closer Álex Colomé. While Colomé (20-for-21 in save chances, 2.39 ERA in 37 2/3 innings) has thrived, Herrera has struggled in his debut season on the South Side. The 29-year-old holds a 7.36 ERA in 38 games/33 innings. As things currently stand, his .326 batting average against and 3.82 BB/9 would be career highs. 

Herrera's struggles are somewhat suprising when considering how well he pitched (2.44 ERA, 48 games/44 1/3 innings) in 2018. He did struggle after the Royals traded him to the Nationals on June 18, though, perhaps a precursor of what was to come from him in 2019:

Kelvin Herrera in 2018:

  with Royals with Nationals
Games 27 21
Innings 25 2/3 18 2/3
ERA 1.05 4.34
BB 2 8
K 22 16
BAA .207 .304

The White Sox claimed Cordero off of waivers from the Mariners on June 7. He previously pitched with the Nationals (22 games, 19 innings) in 2018 and Blue Jays (one game, 1 1/3 innings) in 2019. He holds a career 5.75 ERA in the MLB, but he's pitched well with Charlotte. The 28-year-old has gone 3-1 with a 0.51 ERA in 17 2/3 innings with the Knights, with opponents hitting just .215 against him in 13 outings.

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