Seasons are not made or broken in April, but this is about as fun and intense of a series as one can conceive this early in the year between two division rivals. Triston McKenzie making his first start of the year, Yermín Mercedes continuing to be Yermín Mercedes, Lance Lynn’s continued domination, Franmil Reyes murdering baseballs — there are a lot of fun things to watch out for over the next four days.
The White Sox are on the upswing as a franchise — a lengthy rebuild is finally at an end and they are ready to be competitive again. Before last year’s second-place finish and eventual AL Wild Card loss, Chicago’s south side hadn’t experienced a playoff run since 2008, three years after they won a World Series that the sports world seems to continually forget ever happened. They are a franchise hungry for respect, and they have finally assembled the team to get it.
... then they hired Tony La Russa to be their manager.
The 76-year-old hadn’t managed since 2011, and although he pioneered some advanced bullpen strategy early in his career, it seemed pretty obvious that the game has passed him by. Still, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was determined to hire his friend (to the point that he may have hid La Russa’s recent DUI from the rest of the organization), and now here they are. He’s already made some questionable decisions less than a month into his White Sox tenure, and his team is hardly ever shifting on defense.
Outside of their self-imposed issues, the White Sox are also facing some injury troubles. Tim Anderson was placed on the 10-day injured last week with a hamstring issue, and Eloy Jimenez injured his arm trying to catch a ball over the fence in spring training. He’s expected to miss most, if not all, of 2021. They were already a pretty top-heavy team lacking depth, but they’re being tested now. They’ve called upon 23-year-old Andrew Vaughn, who had never hit above High-A, to be their left fielder and so far he’s taken some time to adjust, but he’s drawn his fair share of walks.
The same inexperienced talent that potentially left them exposed has also kept them afloat early on. Rookie Yermín Mercedes started his career with eight-straight hits, and he hasn’t slowed down since the streak stopped against the Angels on April 4. He has recorded at least one hit in all but one of his seven starts at designated hitter, and he’s 15-for-28 (.536/.594/.857, .610 wOBA) heading into this series. He failed to hit on Sunday, but he still walked three times.
As a team, the White Sox have had some of the best offensive results in baseball with a 114 wRC+, 11 home runs, and a league-leading 13.6% walk rate. But they have also made some of the weakest contact. According to Statcast, they rank last in average exit velocity (87.3), and they have the sixth-lowest barrel rate (6.9%).
This series will be an early test for Cleveland, who has played the Tigers twice and the Royals so far this season. Not only will they face a pair of lefties in Carlos Rodón and Dallas Keuchel, but they will also have to figure out a way to hit Lucas Giolito’s changeups.
Monday, April 12, 8:10 p.m. ET: LHP Carlos Rodón vs. Triston McKenzie
Carlos Rodón was scary-good in his season debut against the Mariners last week. In five innings of work, he struck out nine and allowed just two hits. His Statcast measurements were all basically off the charts compared to his normal seasons, but it’s unlikely he can keep striking out 16 batters per nine, or limiting hard-hits as he did against Seattle. He features four pitches: a four-seamer, slider, changeup, and curveball.
The 28-year-old shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to most teams, but he throws left-handed so look out.
Tuesday, April 13, 8:10 p.m. ET: RHP Lucas Giolito vs. Shane Bieber
‘‘They weren’t adjusting to it, so we just stuck with that.” That’s what Lucas Giolito said following his domination of Cleveland in May 2019, when he held them scoreless over 7.1 innings with eight strikeouts. This was before he took off and was just some post-hype prospect who happened to blow away the big bad Cleveland baseball team. Then he did it again a few weeks later, this time striking out nine over 7.1 innings on June 2.
Giolito has only gotten better since, earning Cy Young votes in his 3.48 ERA 2020 campaign. He struck out 33.7% of batters that year, and he has managed to up that to 42.9% in his two 2021 starts so far — he struck out 10 Mariners on April 6 and eight Angels on Opening Day.
Wednesday, April 14, 8:10 p.m. ET: LHP Dallas Keuchel vs. TBD (Zach Plesac?)
Dallas Keuchel, human ground ball machine, will be making his third start of a season that hasn’t been kind to him so far. He allowed four runs in his debut, striking out four and walking two, then allowed three runs in his second outing against the Mariners, along with three walks and three strikeouts. While he did enjoy some luck along the way to his 1.99 ERA season last year (he finished with a career-low 4.7% HR/FB rate and .255 BABIP), I don’t doubt the 33-year-old can pitch better than he has so far. Call me optimistic, but he still seems better than a 7.00 ERA and 4.45 xFIP.
Thursday, April 15, 2:10 p.m. ET: RHP Lance Lynn vs. TBD (Aaron Civale?)
Cleveland’s lineup seems tailor made to beat Lance Lynn, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s a pitcher that throws almost nothing but fastballs and gets by with deception in his delivery and wildly different spin axis between pitches. He may only be throwing one or two pitches, but he makes them look so unique that it works. He has only faced Cleveland twice in his career and was dominant in each outing. Most recently, with the Rangers in 2019, he struck out nine batters over seven innings, and with the Twins in 2018 he held Cleveland to one run over six innings.
In his last outing, Lynn struck out 11 in his complete-game shutout of the Royals. He has yet to allow a run in his two starts this year (13.2 innings).
DH, Yermín Mercedes - There are good starts to your season, then there is what Yermín Mercedes did to start 2021 with the White Sox. The 28-year-old rookie came out of the gate with eight-straight hits to help keep the injury plagued White Sox above water in the first week of the season. Mercedes has done most of his damage pulling pitches down and in, pulling the ball 52% of the time, with only a couple singles landed anywhere resembling opposite field. It’s far too early to have a book on him, though Cleveland have to hope they have a way to slow him down before he hits another 485-foot bomb.
CF, Luis Robert - Luis Robert isn’t quite the Mike Trout-ian threat he was early in his rookie season last year, but he’s also not Michael Martinez like he was towards the end. He currently sits with a .250/.317/.417 slash and a home run in 41 plate appearances. He’s chasing a bit too much early on, and the result is a strikeout rate approaching 27%. He is still a tremendous defensive centerfielder for now, and we just have to hope his bat doesn’t come around for, oh I don’t know, roughly four more days.
White Sox roster
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