Ready or not, here comes the 2018 season, and it begins for the Royals with a visit from their division rivals, the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox are an interesting team after they started their rebuild in earnest last season and are in the midst of seeing some of their highly regarded prospects ascend to the big leagues. Players like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynado Lopez made their debuts last year to varying levels of success, but all seem to have big futures. And there’s more on the way to team with guys like Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and, if heathy, Carlos Rodon. I think 2019 is really the year for the White Sox to make the jump, but they have the talent to surprise this year.
Note: All stats are from 2017.
White Sox Vitals
|Record||67-95, 4th Place, AL Central|
|Team SP DRA||5.70|
|Team RP DRA||5.71|
|Team WARP Leader||Jose Abreu, 3.9|
|2017 Record vs. Royals||10-9|
Royals vs. White Sox
White Sox Projected Lineup
It wasn’t that long ago that Shields was actually quite good. Now he’s quite bad. He’s had two straight seasons with an ERA above 5.00 and PECOTA projects a third straight for him. His once impeccable control is no longer, and the home run has hurt him even more than most. One of the biggest issues for him has been lefties. He allowed a .279/.375/.554 line to them last season, so the Royals spring additions should be helpful in this one. And if you’re looking for one player to hang your hat on, Mike Moustakas is 5 for 10 with a double and a home run against Shields in his career.
Duffy struggled through spring training and then was lifted early in his last start due to a shoulder issue. I don’t think anyone truly knows what to expect in spite of him and Ned Yost declaring he’s fine. If he’s healthy, he might put together his best full season, but health is the question with him, as it’s always been. It may or may not be worth noting that Duffy gave up 19 runs on 34 hits in 22 innings against the White Sox last season. Of all players, Yolmer Sanchez has been the best against Duffy, hitting .400/.423/.560 in 27 plate appearances.
Giolito debuted last season and the raw numbers look fantastic with that shiny ERA, but the peripherals indicated he wasn’t quite so good with that high DRA you see above. In spite of having really great stuff, he just hasn’t gotten the swings and misses you’d hope for from him. PECOTA projects big-time improvement in that area with more than a strikeout per inning, and he was outstanding in spring, so maybe the breakout is coming. The sample is small, but it interested me that Giolito was excellent the first time through the order and actually quite good the third time, but pretty rough the second time through. When that happens, it’s typically that a pitcher waits too long to adjust and introduce secondary pitches in an outing, which tells me his fastball can be had after they’ve seen it. He was great against the Royals in two starts last year, posting a 1.35 ERA in 13.1 innings.
There was nothing good about Kennedy’s season last year outside of how he pitched in April. The hope is that his hamstring injury really did hamper him all season, but even if that’s true, he’s now 33 and muscle issues don’t get better as you age typically. On the plus side, he had a really good spring, allowing an almost unfathomable zero home runs and striking out 23 in 18 innings. Like Duffy, Kennedy was brutal against the White Sox last year, giving up 19 runs on 26 hits in 20 innings. Better performances from Duffy and Kennedy against the White Sox very well could have been the difference between the second wild card and the reality of 2017.
If you like stuff, Lopez is your guy. His fastball is really good at 94-96 mph, but unless he’s able to get his changeup to be an out pitch, he’s likely not going to be able to cut it as a starter. Last year, he gave up four home runs on it, even though he got plenty of swings and misses on it. That profile means he’ll probably be hot and cold this year, but when he’s hot, he’ll probably look like one of the better pitchers in the league. Control is a question with Lopez, and it was much better last year in his big league stint, but he struggled with it in the Cactus League, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can rediscover it out of Arizona. Last year against the Royals, he made three of his eight starts and struck out just seven in 18.1 innings while giving up 11 runs (just seven earned) on 21 hits, so the Royals saw him pretty well.
While there wasn’t much positive you could say about Kennedy’s 2017, I don’t think Hammel was quite so horrible. He provided innings at least, and he probably underpitched his peripherals a bit. The obvious issue was when the lineup turned over a third time. He allowed a .690 OPS the first time through, a .740 the second time and then a .931 the third time. I’m not sure how he plans on changing that, but either he’s going to need to or Ned Yost is going to need to have a much quicker hook with him. Hammel had a brutal spring, if you’re into that sort of thing, so I imagine the Royals have more hope than expectation for him this season. This game is supposed to be very cold, so maybe he’ll have a good start with hitting conditions so poor.
I personally think the White Sox are better than the Royals, and I think they’ll be better than the Royals in this series. My money is on the Royals losing two of three with their best shot on Opening Day against their former ace.