Series Preview: Chicago White Sox

(Photo Credit: Flickr user EdKopp4 via Creative Commons license)

The homestand is over, and the Yankees are heading to Chicago’s south side to play a team with a losing record at home. The White Sox did split a four-game series in the Bronx earlier this year, two of their three wins during a 17-game stretch extending from mid-April to early-May. Weird stuff tends to happen to the Yankees at U.S. Cellular Field, there seems to be an inordinate amount of infield hits and great defensive plays and what not, but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.

What Have The White Sox Done Lately?

The ChiSox are trying to stay relevant in the AL Central race (they’re three back in the loss column), but two straight losses to the Red Sox hurt their cause. Ozzie Guillen’s team had won five of six before Boston took the last two, and overall they’re 7-6 since the All-Star break. The White Sox are 52-54 with a -7 run differential this year, about as close to a .500 true talent team as it gets.

White Sox On Offense

Didn't recognize him without the goatee. (Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

The Yankees might catch a little bit of a break right off the bat; Paul Konerko is not expected to play in the series opener tonight because of a bruised calf (UPDATE: Konerko is not in tonight’s lineup). Andrew Miller hit him with a pitch yesterday and he’s day-to-day after x-rays came back negative. Konerko is the ChiSox’s best hitter and it’s not particularly close, a .305/.385/.550 monster with the sixth most homeruns in baseball (25). That a significant right-handed batter to lose on the night CC Sabathia starting.

Stepping at first base will likely be Adam Dunn, the most disappointing disappointment to ever disappoint. He’s hitting .165/.298/.303 on the season after signing a four-year, $56M contract last winter, and just .041/.220/.041 against southpaws. Don’t be surprised if he sits tonight. If he does, Brent Lillibridge (yes, that Brent Lillibridge) would likely give it a go at first. He’s hitting .250/.336/.461 in part-time duty. Carlos Quentin is the only other player on the team producing at an above-average rate, a .261/.350/.501 hitter that’s already part of the rare 20/20/20 club. That’s 20 homers, 20 doubles, and 20 hit-by-pitches.

Alexei Ramirez is at .269/.333/.397 and A.J. Pierzynski at .283/.327/.386, the only other two guys in the lineup above a 90 OPS+. Gordon Beckham is a(nother) rushed prospect that has disappointed (.248/.307/.357), Juan Pierre is just bad (.275/.330/.324), and rookie Brent Morel has been overmatched (.253/.271/.305). Alex Rios has been so bad (.207/.253/.296) that he’s losing playing time to Alejandro De Aza (eight at-bats so far, and the only time he’s reached base was on a homer). Omar Vizquel does nothing off the bench (.263/.291/.316), and quality backup catcher Ramon Castro (.235/.307/.456) is injured. The White Sox have the tenth worst wOBA in baseball (.308), so losing Konerko for even a day is a killer.

White Sox On The Mound

Monday, RHP Jake Peavy (vs. CC Sabathia): It’s a matchup of 2007 Cy Young Award winners. Sabathia out-bWAR’d Peavy 6.8 to 6.2 that year, and he’s massively outperformed him since. That mostly due to Peavy’s injuries (ankle, elbow, shoulder), which have cost him more than a full season’s worth of playing time. The now 30-year-old righty has made seven starts since his latest DL stint, putting 60 runners on base in 37.2 IP (5.73 ERA, ~3.00 FIP thanks to a miniscule homer rate). Peavy’s fastball(s) still sit in the low-90’s but are trending downward with the injuries, though it’s always been about life and movement for him. His heater runs all over the place, and it still does. A changeup and slider are his two secondary pitches, and he’ll also mix in a curve. He’s not the same guy he was when he won the Cy, but he’s still quite good.

Tuesday, LHP John Danks (vs. Phil Hughes): Luckily Joe told you everything you need to know about Danks less than two weeks, so I’ll just refer you to that. In two starts since coming back from his oblique injury, Danks has allowed one run in 13 IP, striking out 16 and walking four.

(Photo Credit: Flickr user Keith Allison via Creative Commons license)

Wednesday, RHP Gavin Floyd (vs. A.J. Burnett): Mark Teixeira‘s neighbor growing up, Floyd has allowed just two earned runs across 22.1 IP in three starts since the All-Star break, taking his season ERA down from 4.59 to 3.96. He’s a low-90’s four-seamer/mid-80’s cutter guy, missing bats with a high-70’s curveball that’s among the best in baseball. Floyd doesn’t have much of a changeup and struggles against lefties because of it. He beat the Yankees already once this year (8 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 10 K) and has traditionally been tough against them, but it’s a five start (and one relief appearance) sample.

Thursday, RHP Phil Humber (vs. Ivan Nova/Bartolo Colon): So it turns out that Humber doesn’t suck. Yankees’ fans were irate after Humber shut them down back in April (7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K), but he shut everyone else down in the first half and carried a sub-3.00 ERA into July. The second half has not been kind to Humber though, he’s put 28 men on base in 14 IP, allowing at least four runs in all three starts. We’ve heard all about his new cutter and how it’s helped him resurrect his career, but PitchFX hasn’t been able to pick the pitch and says he’s thrown zero this year. Maybe the break is so subtle that it’s registering as a four-seamer. Anyway, Humber uses his low-90’s heat and high-70’s curve two-thirds of the time, filling in the gaps with a pair of low-80’s offerings: a slider and changeup. I feel confident in saying he won’t one-hit the Yankees for seven innings again).

The Yankees, meanwhile, have announced that Colon with start Thursday’s game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they started Nova instead. That would allow them to start Bartolo in Fenway against the Red Sox on Friday. (UPDATE: Yep, the Yankees just announced that it’s Nova on Thursday, Colon on Friday)

Bullpen: It took some time to figure out the ninth inning, but former infielder Sergio Santos is the undisputed closer now. He actually got his first two saves of the season against the Yankees in April. He’s a strikeout machine (11.71 K/9) but will walk himself in trouble (4.37 BB/9). Hard-throwing southpaw Matt Thornton wasn’t traded before yesterday’s deadline, and he’s got a 9.00 K/9 and 3.75 BB/9. Those numbers are actually bad for him compared to the last few years, when he was routinely north of 12 K/9 and under 3 BB/9. Lefties are also hitting him far better than they should be.

New import Jason Frasor (3.63 FIP) just came over in the Edwin Jackson-Colby Rasmus three-team deal, and high-price import Jesse Crain (3.34 FIP) as been solid in setup work. Former Yankee Brian Bruney has been terrible (5.84 FIP) in limited action, and he was hung out to dry for 58 pitches on Saturday. We might not see him until tomorrow at the earliest. Lefty Will Ohman is the quintessential LOOGY with a big platoon split, though fellow lefty Chris Sale (3.25 FIP) is slightly better against righties. It’s a solid bullpen but not an unbeatable one, especially now that Thornton has returned to mortality.

Recommended White Sox Reading: South Side Sox. Here’s some ticket pricing info if you happen to be in Chicago this week and watch to catch a game or four. RAB Tickets can help you get in for cheap.

Series Preview: Chicago White Sox

(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

The White Sox are a team that’s easy to hate. Their manager has gone from great quote to tiresome, their catcher is universally hated around the game, their play-by-play guy is insufferable, and for the next four days they are the enemy. The Yankees return home from a rocky but ultimately successful road trip through Toronto and Baltimore, kicking off the next leg of their 17 games in 17 days stretch* against a team mired in the slumpiest of slumps.

* Friday’s rain out turned it into 16 games in 16 days.

What Have The White Sox Done Lately?

The Yankees seem to have run into a lot of slumping teams of late, and the ChiSox certainly fit the bill. Ozzie Guillen’s club has lost three straight and ten of their last eleven, getting outscored 56-25 in the process. They haven’t scored a run since the seventh inning of Friday’s game, and haven’t scored a non-solo homerun run since the eighth inning of Thursday’s game. “Nothing works,” said Guillen after yesterday’s loss. “It seems like every day is a rewind movie. Seeing the same at-bats and seems like everybody we face is pretty nasty.”

White Sox On Offense

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Like I said, Chicago’s been struggling with the bats. They’ve scored just 21 runs in their last ten games, and nine of those runs came on Thursday. Their hottest hitter (by far) is Carlos Quentin, who has eleven hits (four doubles, four homers), two walks, and three hit-by-pitches in his last 45 plate appearances (.275/.356/.675). Paul Konerko seemed to break out of a prolonged slump by collecting five hits (including a double and homer) total on Thursday and Friday, but he took an 0-for-4 on Saturday (with three strikeouts) and had Sunday off. A.J. Pierzynski’s seven game hitting streak consists of nine singles, so he’s not exactly tearing the cover off the ball. Aside from those three, Guillen’s offense has been a wreck.

Adam Dunn is buried in a nasty 2-for-30 (.067) slump with 15 strikeouts, and he’s only drawn three walks during that time as well. Alex Rios hasn’t gotten a hit since last Sunday (just two walks and a HBP in his last 23 PA), and Alexei Ramirez has two singles and two walks in his last 24 PA. Gordon Beckham has reached base once in his last 25 PA (a single) and four times in his last 39 PA (two singles, a double, and he reached on an error). Mark Teahen highlights the rest of the offense (we’re talking Juan Pierre, Omar Vizquel, Brent Morel, etc.) with a .334 wOBA. As a team, the ChiSox own a .303 wOBA and a .308 OBP. Yeah, they’ve had trouble hitting.

White Sox On The Mound

Monday: Phil Humber: Claimed off waivers twice this offseason, you might remember Humber for being part of the Johan Santana trade. Safe to say that he never delivered on his promise as the third overall pick of the 2004 draft, but Chicago was encouraged by the cutter he learning from pitching coach and cutter guru Don Cooper in Spring Training. After two relief appearances, Humber has pitched to a 3.86 ERA in three starts that have gotten progressively worse: one earned run in his first start, two in his second, four in his fourth. He doesn’t strike out many batters (just 11 K in 18.2 IP this year) but he won’t walk many either (5 BB), and his ground ball rate is just okay in the low-40% range. Humber relies heavily on a low-90’s fastball, a low-80’s curve, and a mid-80’s changeup, and for whatever reason, PitchFX says he hasn’t thrown that cutter in the regular season. That’s probably a classification issue though.

Tuesday: Gavin Floyd: Floyd’s name popped up in a few trade rumors this past offseason, but he’s still in a White Sox uniform. He’s gone at least six inning in each of his four starts, and he’s actually alternated poor outings with good ones: four runs in seven innings in his first start, one unearned run in eight innings in his second, six runs in six innings in his third, and two runs in seven innings in his fourth. He’s due for a stinker. As always, Floyd misses bats (7.67 K/9, 8.5% swing-and-miss rate), limit walks (2.33 BB/9), and gets ground balls (48.7% ground ball rate) with a fastball (low-90’s), cutter (mid-80’s), curveball (upper 70’s), and changeup (mid-80’s). The curve has been his calling card since the day he was drafted, and if he gets ahead with two strikes, that pitch is coming more than 60% of the time.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Wednesday: Mark Buehrle: Aside from a dominant showing against the Athletics in his third start (eight innings, two hits, no runs), it’s been a brutal season for Buerhle. The usually reliable left-hander has allowed at least four runs in each of his other four starts, pitching into the seventh inning just once. He’s also walked seven and allowed 34 hits in just 22.2 IP in those starts. The Yankees have traditionally had their way with the changeup artist, tagging him for 14 runs in three starts (15 IP) over the last three seasons. Buerhle will bore you to death with that changeup and three mid-80’s fastballs (four-seam, two-seam, cutter). He’ll also break out the occasional curveball, but there are no surprises here.

Thursday: Edwin Jackson: The former Dodger, Ray, Tiger, and Diamondback has enjoyed the best success of his career under Cooper’s watch in Chicago. Four of his five highest single game strikeout totals have come in a White Sox uniform, including a 13 whiff game against the Rays earlier this season. He’s missing more bats than ever (just about a strikeout per inning with the Sox) thanks to a new (wait for it) cutter and increased reliance on his slider. Jackson has allowed 12 runs in his last two starts though (12.2 IP, 23 H, 4 BB) and the Yankees have seen plenty of him in the past (11 career starts vs. New York, plus four relief appearances), so again, no surprises here.

Bullpen: Guillen’s bullpen, at least his core relievers, come into the series well rested. Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, and Sergio Santos have thrown a combined 6.1 IP over the last seven days, though Thornton and Crain each pitched an inning yesterday. The mop-up crew – Jeff Gray, Will Ohman, and Tony Pena – have done much of the heavy lifting of late, throwing eight innings total over the last five days.

Thornton was supposed to be Guillen’s rock at the end of the game, but he blew his first four save opportunities of the year and has been brought into mop-up spots his last two times out. Sale’s been slightly better, and really the team’s two most reliable relievers have been Crain (5 H, 11 K in 10.1 IP) and the former infielder Santos (13 K, 5 H in 9.2 IP, but 5 BB). That’s not exactly how they drew it up in Spring Training. The White Sox probably won’t be out of any game because their starting pitching is very good, but the Yankees have a way of waiting those guys out and going to town on the middle relief.

Recommended White Sox Reading: South Side Sox