Two of the three teams to lead the AL Central after the first week of the season do battle in an August series that actually means very little. The Royals and Chicago White Sox are tied for third place in the Central now, both five games below .500, 10 games behind the Indians in the division and eight games out of the second Wild Card spot. Interestingly enough, both teams were thought to be potential sellers while both teams ended up standing pat at the deadline. The Royals are 7-2 against the White Sox this season, which includes a 3-0 mark in Kansas City. You may recall that series. It’s the one where the Royals came back in all three games and made it look like the Royals were back on track.
White Sox Offense
This isn’t a good offense. That doesn’t mean there aren’t quality offensive performers, but the offense isn’t good. Adam Eaton has done the job, Jose Abreu has been disappointing, but still above average relative to the league, and Melky Cabrera has had a nice season. Actually, he had a rough start to the year last year, but he’s performed well for the White Sox since he got going last year. They also get a ton of homers from Todd Frazier, which is a nice weapon to have. They’re plagued by the injury bug with Brett Lawrie, Austin Jackson and Alex Avila all on the disabled list at the moment.
Here’s a look at what the White Sox offense has done lately:
White Sox Pitching
The rotation is, we’ll say, interesting. Chris Sale is one of the best in the game. You could make a semi-convincing argument that Jose Quintana is better. Having two lefties at the top is huge, and yet the White Sox can’t make it stand up. The rest of the rotation is middling to bad. It’s not that there isn’t potential in a guy like Carlos Rodon, but Miguel Gonzalez and the current version of James Shields leaves something to be desired.
Here’s their rotation over the last month:
The bullpen is certainly there. David Robertson has had a rough season, and it kind of started with the Royals huge comeback win when they were down 7-1 in the ninth and he was just pitching to get some work. His setup men have been good, but trading Zach Duke and losing Zack Putnam to injury has weakened what they have going on there. It’s not that they can’t shut you down on a given night. It’s that they have no idea what they’re going to get on that given night.
Finally, here’s a view at their recent numbers:
Game 1, Tuesday: Edinson Volquez vs. Chris Sale
It’s been quite a year for Sale. First he starts off with a crazy unbeaten streak and a fantastic ERA. Then, he slumps a bit. Then his name is mentioned in trade talks. Then, he doesn’t like the White Sox choice in throwback jerseys, so he cuts them up and gets sent home without his dinner. And now, here we are. He’s 14-5 with a 3.12 ERA. He’s striking out less hitters, but it seems like that’s by design to throw less pitches and get deeper into games, which he’s done, averaging seven innings per start for the first time since his great 2013 season. I mentioned he had a rough stretch, and he did, with a 5.56 ERA in nine starts from late May to early July, but he’s really righted the ship since then with a 1.64 ERA in his last three starts. Of course, those three starts have been three losses for the White Sox. He’s 8-9 with a 3.04 ERA in 28 games (17 starts) against the Royals in his career, which includes a 1-0 record and a 4.85 ERA in two starts against them this year.
Three things to watch for against Sale:
- He throws a really good four-seam fastball just a shade under 50 percent of the time at about 93-94 MPH. It moves a lot. He also has a ridiculously good slider, a changeup and a sinker. He has been hurt a bit on the fastball, allowing 15 home runs this year on it, but none of his pitches have been hit particularly well with the highest average against on any of them on that fastball at just .245.
- Interestingly enough, he’s struggled at home this year and been lights out on the road. At home, he’s allowed 13 of his 18 home runs and posted a 4.55 ERA. On the road, the ERA drops all the way to .216 and the opponent’s OPS drops from .765 to .539. You may not realize this, but this game will be played away from his home in Chicago.
- He actually doesn’t have a huge platoon split with a .637 OPS allowed to righties and a .611 OPS allowed to lefties. The slugging percentage for lefties is actually higher than the right-handed SLG. He’s allowed just six extra base hits to lefties, but teams tend to stack their lineup against him, so he’s only had 81 plate appearances against them compared to 502 against righties. Alcides Escobar has hit him pretty well in his 62 plate appearances against him with a .367 average. Lorenzo Cain has three homers and Eric Hosmer now has two, with both coming in the last time Sale faced the Royals. Salvador Perez, Kendrys Morales and Paulo Orlando have all also homered against him.
It’s been a tough year for Volquez. He started off great and just hasn’t shown any consistency from start to start this year. He’s given up five or more runs in a start seven times this year (including his last two) and given up two or less 10 times this season. It’s been a really weird year. He hasn’t seemed to have three bad starts in a row, though, so that should bode well for this one after he was rocked against the Rays last week in Tampa. He’s 2-3 with a 2.89 ERA In seven career starts against the White Sox, which includes a no decision earlier this year when he went six innings and gave up three runs on seven hits. Cabrera has the highest OPS against him of any White Sox players at .785, so it’s safe to say he’s done well against them.
First Pitch Temperature: 88° F
Wind: SE at 4-8 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 10% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 2, Wednesday: Ian Kennedy vs. Jose Quintana
Quintana is somehow still underrated throughout baseball, which blows my mind. Prior to this year, he had a 3.46 ERA in four career seasons and had thrown 200+ innings in each of the last three. His strikeout rate is good as is his walk rate. He gives up some hits, but he keeps the ball in the yard and generally does a very good job of run prevention. It would take either an injury or an unprecedented run of failure for him to not reach 200 innings this year, and he’s currently posting the best ERA of his career. The guy can really pitch. Yet somehow, the Royals have his number. He’s 1-8 with a 4.28 ERA in his career against the Royals in 20 starts. He’s 0-2 with a 4.40 ERA in two starts this year, so the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Three things to watch for against Quintana:
- One reason he’s gotten better is that he’s added some velocity to his fastball from his rookie season. He now throws about 92-93 MPH and throws that pitch about 42 percent of the time. He throws a sinker at similar velocity along with a really good curve and the occasional change. That changeup is basically the only pitch hitters have consistent success on, which might be why he doesn’t throw it very often.
- He does seem to tire out as games go on, so that’s something to watch for against him. The first time through the order, he allows a .231/.278/.376 line. The second time through, it’s even worse – .195/.239/.297. The third time through, though, it jumps to .293/.351/.452. He doesn’t have elite stuff, so it makes sense that seeing him a third time could really help a hitter see him better.
- Quintana has been death to lefties this year with a .213/.244/.320 line allowed compared to .244/.298/.394 to righties. It’s not like that second line is terrible for a pitcher or anything, but it at least represents some hope for an opposing hitter. Cheslor Cuthbert has two homers in nine at bats against him while Perez, Morales, Hosmer and Alex Gordon have also homered against him. Orlando has a good line against him as well.
Kennedy has basically been Kennedy this year. He’s given up home runs, he’s struck hitters out, he’s walked a respectable number and he’s also been a bit above average, at least by ERA’s standards. I guess the last part isn’t necessarily true of Kennedy being Kennedy as he hasn’t had an above average ERA relative to the league since 2012, but he’s got that now, and has been really, really good his last two starts with just one run allowed in 13 innings pitched. To take it back farther, he’s really gotten the strikeout pitch going in his last eight starts, striking 58 over 45.2 innings (with a 3.74 ERA in that time). He’s 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA in two career starts against the White Sox. He allowed seven runs (four homers) in 5.2 innings against them earlier this year. Cabrera has hit him well with two homers and Morneau has a solid history against him as well, but that’s really it as far as hitters who have been successful against him from the White Sox.
First Pitch Temperature: 90° F
Wind: SSE at 5-10 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 20% chance of showers/thunderstorms
Game 3, Thursday: Danny Duffy vs. Miguel Gonzalez
After three surprisingly good season for the Orioles from 2012-2014, Gonzalez struggled last year, which led him to be let go by the only big league team he’d played for. His success was always a bit of a head scratcher as he didn’t strike out many and walked a few more than you’d like for those strikeout numbers. He caught on with the White Sox, and has been really effective for them. He hasn’t been great or anything, but he’s given them quality innings and starts. Plus, he’s been solid lately with a 2.76 ERA over seven starts since July 1. His success is still difficult to explain statistically, but it’s there. In six regular season starts against the Royals, he’s 1-4 with a 4.58 ERA. He’s 0-2 with a 3.65 ERA in two starts this year.
Three things to watch for against Quintana:
- He throws a four-seam fastball about one-third of the time at about 92 MPH. He throws a sinker at a similar velocity, but doesn’t throw it nearly as much. He uses a hard slider along with a splitter and then supplements those four pitches with the occasional curve. It also looks like he’s broken out a cutter a bit this year. The curve, cutter and sinker have been hit the hardest, so hitters should be on the lookout for those.
- This is a little bit confusing because he throws a good amount of first pitch strikes, but Gonzalez isn’t so easy to hit on the first pitch. He’s allowed a .320 average, which is high, but only a .440 SLG with it, and when hitters swing at the first pitch at all, whether the at bat ends there or not, they only have a .254 average and .354 SLG.
- Gonzalez hasn’t shown much of a split this year with a .728 OPS allowed to righties and a .707 OPS to lefties. This would be a good game to get Jarrod Dyson a start as he’s gone 8 for 10 in his career against Gonzalez. Billy Burns has also had some success in just seven plate appearances. Other than that, Cain, Perez, Hosmer and Morales have homered against him, but there hasn’t been a ton of success against him in the Royals lineup.
I just love writing about Duffy even though it’s gotten pretty boring. He had another excellent start against the Blue Jays, and did so without having his most dominant stuff. He went 6.2 innings and gave up just two runs with six strikeouts. Let’s just update the numbers. Since becoming a starter, he’s 8-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 97.1 innings over 16 starts. He has 111 strikeouts and 20 walks. Since losing the limitations, he’s gone 8-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 starts and averaged more than 19 outs per game. What he’s done is the single greatest thing to come out of the 2016 season (unless the Royals go on an unexpected and, frankly, unprecedented run to finish the season). It’s been so much fun to watch. He’s 4-2 with a 3.45 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) against the White Sox in his career, which includes a 1-0 record and 2.87 ERA in three starts against him. What’s interesting is that he had probably his worst start of the year against him when he started the game by retiring the first 16 batters before giving up a grand slam and a solo homer and getting pulled. He’s given up homers to Navarro, Saladino, Abreu, Frazier and Cabrera and been hit hard by many of those, but he’s done well against them on the whole.
First Pitch Temperature: 93° F
Wind: SSW at 6-12 mph
Cloud Cover: Mostly Sunny/Clear
Precipitation: 30% chance of showers/thunderstorms
This isn’t so much confidence in the Royals as it is confidence in the Royals over the White Sox. This certainly isn’t the same team that has seemed to do so well against the White Sox recently, but I think there’s enough of the same components to make it work. I think the Royals win two of three before heading to Minnesota in the hopes of getting their season back on track.