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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the New York Yankees

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USA TODAY

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How the White Sox stack up against the New York Yankees

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.

Even though the Boston Red Sox remain stacked and the defending World Series champs and a team that has Mookie Betts and Chris Sale, man, these Yankees look good.

This is a team that won 100 games a season ago, only to get dispatched of by the eventual champions in the ALDS. But they're pretty loaded, too, and did a lot of work this winter to make the roster even better — and better able to compete with the rival Red Sox.

In all seriousness, this is a group set up for a new Yankee dynasty. Aaron Judge missed 50 games last season and so was only able to add 27 homers to the jaw-dropping 52 he hit during his Rookie of the Year season in 2017. He still finished 12th in AL MVP voting in 2018 thanks to a .392 on-base percentage and a .919 OPS. Giancarlo Stanton's first year in The Bronx wasn't a duplicate of his 59-homer, 132-RBI season of 2017. But, hey, 38 homers and 100 RBIs ain't bad.

But it's the guys around those two middle-of-the-lineup menaces that blossomed in 2018 to really make this Yankee team look so dangerous in the present and future. The Bombers boasted the two best rookie position players in the AL in Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, who finished second and third, respectively, in the AL Rookie of the Year vote (if only they could also pitch like Shohei Ohtani). Andujar slashed .297/.328/.537 with 27 homers and 92 RBIs, while Torres slashed .271/.340/.480 with 24 homers and 77 RBIs, not to mention an All-Star appearance. And how about Aaron Hicks? The center fielder extraordinaire busted out his bat in 2018 and smacked 27 home runs to go along with a .366 on-base percentage. Gary Sanchez only played in 89 games but still managed 18 homers in an otherwise woeful offensive season.

The common thread through all of this is youth. The average age of all the guys mentioned so far (Judge, Stanton, Andujar, Torres, Hicks and Sanchez) is 25. Those six players are all under team control through the 2022 season, when Judge and Sanchez become the first to hit free agency.

The Yankees will also get Didi Gregorius back at some point this summer once his recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete. He also hit, you guessed it, 27 home runs last season.

And that's without mentioning anything the Yankees did this offseason, which included bringing in an All-Star caliber starting pitcher in James Paxton, one of the best relievers on the market in Adam Ottavino, a potential steal at shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki and a Swiss Army Knife infielder in DJ LeMahieu, who's fresh off back-to-back Gold Glove seasons with the Colorado Rockies.

There are pitching questions, sure, though not in the bullpen, where the Yankees might boast the game's most fearsome relief corps: Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton, Ottavino and Chad Green. You don't realize how impressive that group is until you see all those names written out in a row. The Yankees could watch every one of their starters last just four innings a game and still be in good shape.

But let's talk about that rotation, which doesn't have the initial impression of a dominant group, like the Red Sox might have. But Paxton is an incredible addition for the Yankees. He was blossoming into an ace with the Seattle Mariners, with a 3.52 ERA over the last three seasons. In 2018, he struck out a career-best 208 batters in a career-high 160.1 innings and finished the year with an 11.7 K/9. He'll team with the solid Masahiro Tanaka and the veteran J.A. Happ, who had a terrific 2.69 ERA after a midseason trade to The Bronx last year.

Of course, the two biggest names in this rotation are both unlikely to be on the roster on Opening Day. Luis Severino has made back-to-back All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting in each of the last two seasons. He put up a 3.18 ERA with 450 strikeouts in 2017 and 2018. He's the ace of this staff, but he'll miss more than a month recovering from a rotator cuff injury. Meanwhile, CC Sabathia has been solid the last two years, too, with a 3.67 ERA, but he's likely to miss Opening Day after having an angioplasty this offseason.

Even with some starting-pitching questions, though, that's a very long list of reasons why the Yankees are very good. The biggest thing standing in their way, of course, is the Red Sox and to a lesser extent the Houston Astros, the AL's other uber team that has championship expectations. But it's possible the Yankees could be better than all of them. A lineup that's being talked about as the most powerful ever. A bullpen that might be baseball's best. And a host of offseason additions that have bolstered a team that already was in the 100-win category.

A lot of folks grew up hating the Yankees for their perennial dominance, but believe it or not they've won just one championship in the last 18 years. And if they don't reach the Fall Classic this year, it will be an entire decade, the 2010s, without a Yankees pennant. The last time that happened was the 1910s. This is a group that could change all that.

2018 record: 100-62, second place in AL East

Offseason additions: James Paxton, Troy Tulowitzki, Adam Ottavino, DJ LeMahieu

Offseason departures: David Robertson, Andrew McCutchen, Lance Lynn, Neil Walker

X-factor: While Tulowitzki drew the headlines for his accomplished career, the large amount of money the Toronto Blue Jays gave him to leave Canada and pair of spring home runs he hit, the more meaningful infield addition for the Yankees might end up being LeMahieu. He won three of the last five Gold Gloves handed out to National League second basemen. He's just three years removed from an NL batting crown. He's fresh off a career-high 15 home runs. And he's just one of a host of middle infielders who will contribute to this squad, alongside Tulowitzki, Torres and Gregorius.

Projected lineup:

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
4. Gary Sanchez, C
5. Miguel Andujar, 3B
6. Gleyber Torres, 2B
7. Luke Voit, 1B
8. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
9. Brett Gardner, LF

Projected rotation:

1. Masahiro Tanaka
2. James Paxton
3. J.A. Happ
4. Domingo German
5. Luis Cessa
*CC Sabathia
*Luis Severino

*pitchers might not be in Opening Day rotation but are expected back after the season begins

Prediction: First place in AL East, wild card

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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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