Series Previews

5/20-5/22 Series Preview: Chicago White Sox

Long time no see, Pale Hose. After taking three of four just last weekend in the Windy City, the Sox will pay a visit to New York for a three-game set. The preseason favorites to take the AL Central by a country mile, Chicago has disappointed somewhat in the early going – they sit at 19-19, three games adrift of first-place Minnesota with a -27 run differential.

Lineup

Touted as one of the premier offensive juggernauts in the American League, the White Sox hitters haven’t met their lofty potential thus far. Just two regulars have a wRC+ above 100: Tim Anderson (.346/.386/.493, 161) and Luis Robert (.301/.338/.472, 140). Those two have been excellent, but others expected to carry the team have faltered, most notably Jose Abreu (89 wRC+), Yoan Moncada (80) and Yasmani Grandal (68). Abreu looks poised for a rebound, however, with a 99th percentile hard-hit rate and 77th percentile expected slugging percentage (xSLG). Additionally, though he’s missed some time after being hit by a pitch on the hand back in April, young phenom Andrew Vaughn is slugging .467 in 22 games. Eloy Jimenez is likely still a month or so away from a return after tearing his hamstring.

Pitching Matchups

Friday: Dallas Keuchel (2-3, 5.54 ERA) vs. Nestor Cortes (2-1, 1.35 ERA)

Keuchel started the one Sox win of last weekend’s series, acquitting himself nicely against the Yankees lineup. He went five innings, scattering four hits and three walks with three strikeouts while not allowing a run. While obviously not the pitcher he once was (and never a swing-and-miss master even at his peak), Keuchel is still succeeding inducing soft contact, and his expected ERA of 3.98 speaks to that. Cortes, meanwhile, continues to have the season of his life. He shut down Chicago last Sunday, completing eight innings of three-hit, one-run ball with seven strikeouts.

Saturday: Johnny Cueto (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. Luis Severino (3-0, 3.63 ERA)

The veteran Cueto signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox on April 4, and made his season debut in Kansas City last Monday. He was excellent, throwing six sparkling innings during which he allowed no runs, two hits and two walks, striking out seven. While Cueto used a fastball to set the table for essentially his entire career to this point, he showed signs of a change in his first start of 2022. Against the Royals, he relied much more heavily on a sinker-slider combo. Given the decline in his velocity as he’s aged, the new approach makes sense and is worth keeping an eye on. Severino did not line up against the White Sox last series. He’s coming off a dominant outing on Monday in Baltimore, easily his best of the season.

Sunday: TBD vs. Jameson Taillon (4-1, 3.28 ERA)

The White Sox haven’t yet announced their Sunday starter, though it would be Dylan Cease if proceeding as usual. Cease has been Chicago’s best pitcher in 2022 with an incredible 36.8 strikeout rate and a 2.16 FIP through eight starts. In fact, the Yankees have been the only team to do any real damage against him. While he did strike out 11 Yankees last Thursday, he also surrendered six runs on six hits and two Giancarlo Stanton bombs in four innings. Taillon, meanwhile, continues to chug along. None of his rate stats jump off the page save for his miniscule walk percentage of 2.6. If he can continue to keep the traffic off the basepaths, he’ll be more than fulfilling his role as a solid back-end member of the rotation.

What to watch for

The streaking Yankees come into this series winners of eight of their last ten games, and now enter an important stretch during which they’ll play three out of four series against American League contenders (Chicago this weekend, four games at Tampa Bay, and a three-game set hosting the Angels wrapped around another date with Baltimore). Here are three storylines to watch.

  1. White-Hot Sox – While Chicago’s offense has underachieved to this point, don’t expect that to continue. Their team .278 wOBA, third-worst in baseball, betrays a .330 expected mark that would have them closer to the league’s middle. They also sport a hard-hit rate that ranks them third in the game, behind our Yankees and Toronto. With Vaughn healthy again, Abreu looking more comfortable, and Anderson and Robert carrying the group, it’s just a matter of time before the Sox are cooking.
  2. Bomber Kryptonite – It’s no secret that the entire Yankee lineup has been tearing the cover off the ball lately, but in the first two pitchers they’ll face this weekend, they encounter what fans dread. Keuchel and Cueto, past their primes as they both are, have always excelled at inducing ground balls and limiting hard contact in the air. Keuchel proved he can still make that formula work last weekend, while Cueto gave every indication in his first start that he can too – perhaps even more so now, with his new sinker/slider mix. The Yankees will need to grind out at-bats and make these two wily vets work. They likely won’t be sending moonshots into the short porch all series long.
  3. Watch the Temperature – Things remained largely calm last weekend, save for a small tiff at third base between Tim Anderson and Josh Donaldson. But these are two motivated, fiery teams who see themselves competing for a championship come October. Don’t be surprised if tempers start to flare a bit, and such a clash could be just what the doctor ordered for a fairly moribund but very talented Sox team.

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