One year ago to the day, the White Sox played their last game of the 2019 season. They beat the Detroit Tigers 5-3 and as soon as the final out was recorded, the rebuild was dead. Deceased. Finito. It ceased to exist. Not a lot of people outside White Sox fans agreed with me when I said that, but when looking at the organizational construct with a microscope like myself and Sox fans do, we knew that the good times were going to start in 2020.
And they did.
Because I'm a petty asshole, I'd like to say "fuck you" to anyone who didn't believe me when I said that the White Sox were going to be one of the best teams in baseball from 2020 onward, and I say that on behalf of myself and all White Sox fans.
Now, they haven't won shit yet. Making the playoffs this year was just another step towards a decade of sustained success, but the goal is not to go to the playoffs, it's to go to the playoffs every year for the foreseeable future, and for this core to take home the Commissioner's Trophy. That might not be this year, but it also might be this year too.
This roster is fucking loaded and still is not fully complete. Andrew Vaughn, Michael Kopech and new free agent toys are still on the horizon. We have to throw away the last 10 days - the Sox stunk, I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. But they also played 17 games in 17 days and needed a breather. They got one yesterday and today a new season starts. It's time for playoff baseball, and the White Sox matchup VERY well with the A's.
Let's break it down, starting with the lineup:
And the Sox lineup:
We'll get this out of the way: no Eloy HURTS. It fucking sucks ass. He's a bona fide middle of the order bat that any org in baseball would kill for. Losing him and adding Leury is a massive 180. God fucking damnit do we need Yo and LuBob to step up.
NOW - with that said - throughout the majority of the year, the White Sox had one of the most potent lineups in baseball. It starts and ends with two players: Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu. TA7 was his typical firecracker self at the top of the lineup, and Abreu was his typical run producing self in the middle of it. Throughout the majority of the 2020 campaign, the White Sox were one of the most potent offenses in baseball, in spite of a few black holes which we'll get to in a minute.
One of the main reasons they were so potent over their 60 game sprint was because they absolutely shit on left handed pitching. Here is the team slash against LHP in 2020:
.285/.364/.523 with a .887 OPS, 27 dingers and a wRC+ of 143 against LHP this year. Those are absurd numbers for a team to produce, doesn't matter if it's a 60 game season or 600 game season. The White Sox pound left handed pitching, and did so to a tune of a 14-0 record when they saw a lefty this season. Though they didn't fare near as well against RHP, the White Sox still lead all of baseball in positional fWAR with a 13.9 mark. This lineup fucks and if you make mistakes, they will hurt you... usually.
We'll get to the "usually" from the last sentence in a moment. The A's counter with their typical lineup of guys you ask "who?" about when their names are mentioned. It's littered with low average/high OBP players that just seem to get the job done. Now I haven't watched the A's like.... at all this year... but their best player, Matt Chapman, is done for the year. Their next best player, Marcus Siemien, was bad this year. Matt Olson hit under .200 and got on base just over a .300 clip and he was player in their lineup that hit over 10 bombs this year.
Though it's not a BAD lineup... it's just not a very good one, especially with Chapman out. The White Sox objectively mop the floor with the A's lineup. That's not to say the White Sox lineup is perfect, because it is FAR from that, but player for player, the White Sox are better almost around the entire diamond. I say "almost" because there are two black holes in it:
DH - Edwin Encarnación has stunk this year
RF - Nomar Mazara has also stunk this year
Those two players have been objectively bad in 2020 and I pray they don't see the starting lineup today, tomorrow or any other day. Either of them could hypothetically be fine pinch hitting options with hopes they run into a HR, but they don't need to see 4+ plate appearances/ game. Thank god we don't have to worry about them right now, at least not for game 1.
Aside from those two, the two most important players in the White Sox lineup, again, are Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert. Through 45 games or so, Luis Robert was one of the most electrifying players in baseball. The league adjusted though, and aside from his last few games, he couldn't hit a beach ball for about an 80 plate appearance stretch. If he can get back to his July and August form, the A's are in a lot of trouble. With Luzardo on the mound today, there's a solid enough chance he will.
Then we have Yoan Moncada. I am still of the opinion that he *should* the best all around hitter in the lineup. He *should* blend speed, power and patience at the plate in a way that terrifies opponent pitching. Ya know, like what he did in 2019. In 2020? Not so much. He's been quoted as saying his July Covid diagnosis is the reason, and that could absolutely be true, but whatever the reason for his lackluster 2020 campaign is needs to go away because we have fucking playoff games to win. He needs to get hot with Robert. With the lineup's two black holes in Mazara/Encarnacion, the White Sox can't afford two more. They need Robert and Moncada to be Robert and Moncada. If they're not, the Sox are in some trouble.
Then we get to pitching:
Lucas Giolito fucks:
Dallas Keuchel also fucks:
This is one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. Giolito has become an ace and Keuchel's crafty ass had a renaissance year to a tune of a sub 2.00 ERA. Give me Lucas Giolito over Chris Bassit and Dallas Keuchel over Jesus Luzardo all day every day.
Speaking of Luzardo, he's Oakland's game 1 starter today. He has pretty shit. Slings it 95+ from the left side and is around the plate a LOT with only 2.5 walks/9IP or so. But… he's left handed. He's a fine pitcher, but this White Sox lineup should be all over him from the first pitch of the game today. The "effectively wild" pitchers are the ones the sox struggle with, and Luzardo is NOT that. He'd be best suited to expand the zone and make White Sox hitters chase, but that'd be going against the grain for him. Should he work like he typically does, the White Sox should and hopefully will chase him early.
What I want to see from Giolito is this: a clean 1st inning working fastball/changeup. Should he be efficient and get into a quick rhythm, I want to see him work in his slider for strikes or near strikes. Giolito's still sort of a 2 pitch pitcher; this has worked for him, but to be a true stud on the level of someone like a Shane Bieber, he needs to command his slider much better. This has been a goal of his, but he hasn't done it quite yet. If he does today? The A's can say good night. His fastball/changeup combo paired with a weak-contact-inducing slider would dominate any lineup in baseball. Just too much guesswork involved for hitters facing 3 ++ pitches at wildly varying velocities. Look to 2019's Astro's complete game shut out as a reference.
The White Sox HAVE to win game 1. Have to. They match up so well today that they can't afford to let Oakland steal this one. Now with that said, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this is how the A's deploy their pitching today:
If that's the case, the playing field is leveled off BIG time. It's of the utmost importance for the White Sox to get on Luzardo early. Like… 1st inning early.
Because we don't want the A's to get to their bullpen with a lead:
The A's have an awesome bullpen. 2.72 ERA to the White Sox 3.76. Liam Hendricks, JB Wendelken and Jake Diekman have all be crazy good this year. Joakim Soria has had a renaissance year, and Lou Trevino has been solid as well. GET ON THE A'S EARLY. You don't want them to go to their pen with the lead. If they do today and tomorrow, that could VERY well be the series. Score early and score often.
That said, I LOVE the Sox pen. Heuer, Marshall, Foster, Colome, and Bummer would be key pieces in any pen in baseball. Then we get to whom I believe is the series' biggest X factor, Garret Crochet. If you don't know who he is, that makes perfect sense. He was drafted 11th overall in June. June as in 3 months ago June. Dude was pitching for the Tennessee Volunteers in March before their season shut down and has never stepped foot on an MiLB diamond. This motherfucker throws FUEL:
And now he's in the middle of a pennant race and willI don't really know how they're going to deploy him. If it were up to me, I'd work from the Jim Leyland school of thought, and that thought is "give me talent over experience". I'd keep him on standby in games 1 and 2. Should the Sox not need him, he's my game 3 starter because… fuck it. He's legit a freak of nature and I wouldn't be worried about him getting through the lineup in a potential game 3 at least once. Sure he's not ramped up for 100 pitches yet, but I think they could squeeze 50-60 out of him in a do or die game before giving the ball to Heuer, Foster, Marshall and company. That might be how they roll, might not me. But I think that's how I would.
Now let's talk about managers:
I don't like Ricky tactically. You don't like Ricky tactically. Nobody likes Ricky tactically, and that's because Ricky isn't good tactically. I would be lying if I said I'm not worried about him doing something stupid today, tomorrow and Thursday. If the lineup is firing on all cylinders and Gio is doing Gio things, we shouldn't have to worry about him. But if it's a close game and he's in charge of making switches/changes, then we might run into some unnecessary trouble. Hopefully that's not the case. Hopefully
I don't know much about Bob Melvin the manager. I did a quick Twitter search with the words "fire bob Melvin" and it basically came up empty. If you did that with Renteria you'd spend 5 years scrolling through tweets of people calling for his head. Obviously fans are fickle, especially ones that voice their displeasure on social media, so if there hasn't been some uproar from the fanbase about Bob Melvin this year, I'm assuming he's doing an A-OK job. This is sabermetrics 101 for you analytics nerds out there. Social media is always right about a head coach or manager's job performance.
Advantage: Oakland. Obviously.
But in the end, the better roster usually wins. The White Sox have the better roster. Their lineup is better than Oakland's, their top two SP's are better than Oakland's top 2 SP's, and the variance in their bullpens isn't too sizable, especially not with the addition of Crochet. The A's did have a better record by 1 game in 2020, but the White Sox also had 6 series against playoff teams to the A's 3. Stick the A's in the AL Central and they're probably closer to a .500 team. But… throw records away. It's a new season and the White Sox have the talent to make a run through October.
Starts with game one today. Sox win 8-3.
PS - I personally bet 2 units on White Sox team over 4.5 and a half unit on Sox -1.5/+140. Again, they're 14-0 against LHP this year and I don't see it changing today. Let's go get a dub.