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5 White Sox X-factors who could step up in playoffs

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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HOUSTON — If the Chicago White Sox are going to win the World Series, they’ll need October contributions from the entire roster.

The South Siders are blessed with plenty of star power, including the American League’s finest starting rotation and a lineup packed with All Stars, Silver Sluggers and an MVP.

Luis Robert might end up being the team’s best playoff bat. Yoán Moncada could be a huge postseason weapon. Liam Hendriks could be called on in almost every playoff game. And obviously the White Sox will do nothing without Tim Anderson and José Abreu, two team leaders and two of the best hitters in the game.

But who are the guys with the potential to pop outside of the usual suspects?

Here are five players who could step up and come through in the biggest moments to help the White Sox achieve the sky-high goals they’ve been talking about since the spring.

Leury García

Don’t get me wrong — Tony La Russa, if you’re reading — García is an everyday type of player with the versatility to play all over the field. That versatility makes him a stereotypical X-factor, in that he can step up anywhere at any time.

That’s what he did during a red-hot September, coming through again and again, including with that walk-off homer that beat the Boston Red Sox.

In the postseason, García would seem best utilized as the White Sox’ starting second baseman. Even though he could just as easily be deployed in right field, a second-and-right combo of García and Adam Engel seems far more appealing than one of César Hernández and García, given Hernández’s offensive struggles since arriving at the trade deadline.

 

García might not be the same kind of superstar as other guys around him in the White Sox’ lineup. But he’s a key contributor and comes into the postseason on a hot streak.

Michael Kopech

Long dreamt of as a key piece of the puzzle by White Sox fans, Kopech is certainly getting there after a successful first full season in the major leagues. Eventually, he’ll be in the rotation, but right now, he’s a potentially devastating weapon out of the South Side bullpen.

The playoffs are where bullpen usage gets cranked to 11, and a guy like Kopech, capable of throwing multiple innings at a time, could be called on to record some enormous outs, given the short leashes that usually accompany even the game’s most effective starting pitchers. Throw in the uncertainty when it comes to Carlos Rodón’s persistently sore left shoulder, and Kopech could become even more critical.

The White Sox have stretched Kopech out of late, sending him out for three innings in each of his last two relief appearances, with just this type of multi-inning role in mind.

Kopech had a sensational first half of the season, with a second half dotted with rougher outings. But he is the same kind of overpowering force, showing that in recent outings, and that’s the kind of weapon he could be for the White Sox in the playoffs.

Gavin Sheets

Lefty power. Sheets might bring a specific skill to the White Sox at the moment, but that’s the kind of thing that makes an X-factor.

The rookie earned himself a spot on the playoff roster with consistent run-producing ability in his two stints with the big league club during the regular season. And as things stand heading into the playoffs, he’s the team’s top DH option against right-handed pitching.

Sheets will likely make up a lefty-righty platoon with Andrew Vaughn, another rookie who’s feasted on a specific hand of pitcher. Sheets is the hotter of the two hitters, though. Vaughn closed the regular season with just four hits in September, while Sheets smacked five home runs and drove in 18 runs in 25 games after rejoining the team Sept. 1.

It’s not at all difficult to envision Sheets swinging that powerful stick in a big moment this postseason.

Garrett Crochet

The guy who grabbed everyone’s attention with 101 mile an hour heat last year was perhaps the most overlooked member of the White Sox’ bullpen in 2021. But that doesn’t mean he can’t come through this fall.

Crochet has quietly been inserted back into a high profile role as the regular season shifts to the playoffs. He’s part of that back-end mix with a couple All-Star closets in Hendriks and Craig Kimbrel and more veteran setup men Aaron Bummer and Ryan Tepera. La Russa called on Crochet far more often down the stretch than he did during the middle portion of the year, with strong results.

 

Crochet might not be throwing the same kind of gas he was last year. But he’s still getting guys out, as valuable a skill as there is in the bullpen-happy world of postseason baseball.

Billy Hamilton

This is why the White Sox picked Hamilton up in the middle of spring training: for October.

Hamilton proved a strong addition, a tremendous clubhouse and dugout presence and a guy capable of delivering with his famed speed and some very good defensive ability, too. He even came through with some memorable hits, thanks in no small part to Anderson helping him reframe the way he thinks of himself as a hitter.

But playoff baseball is when Hamilton’s base-running ability will be called on most often. And it could make the difference between a critical win and going home early. Just ask Dave Roberts about that stolen base in 2004. Or the inside-the-park home run that didn’t happen for Alex Gordon in 2014.

The White Sox have some guys who excel at getting on base that don’t necessarily excel at tearing up the base paths with blazing speed. Hamilton does, and he can be deployed as a pinch-runner that produces a run where one might not have happened without him.

That’s an X-factor right there.

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