The Chicago White Sox saw their crosstown rivals win a World Series last season. What will 2017 have in store for Chicago’s baseball team on the south side?
It was a forgettable 2016 season on the south side of Chicago for the city’s Junior Circuit baseball team in the form of the Chicago White Sox. Their crosstown rival Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series over the White Sox’s American League Central division rival Cleveland Indians to break the curse.
While the Cubs look to repeat as World Series Champions, the White Sox look to snap their eight-year American League Postseason drought. If 2016’s 78-84 campaign is any indication of things to come with the White Sox, the south siders could be in for a long season.
They do have a deep farm system, so good things could be coming up the pipeline. Playing in the same division as World Series contender Cleveland won’t make things easier for the White Sox, but here is a look at what they will have to work with this upcoming MLB season.
If there is a strength with the White Sox, it might be their starting rotation. It will be composed of savvy veterans and a few promising youngsters. For the White Sox to contend for a Wild Card berth in the American League, they will need to lean on its starting rotation and ride it the whole season.
Though the did lose ace Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox this offseason, Chicago does have a few notable starters atop its 2017 rotation. Jose Quintana is now presumably the ace of the staff. He made his first trip to the Mid-Summer Classic last July. Can the 28-year-old southpaw take the next step in his MLB career?
Miguel Gonzalez, Derek Holland and James Shields are crafty veterans that can eat up innings in a rotation. Holland and Shields have significant postseason experience at previous stops in the Junior Circuit.
Coming up the pipeline are Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito. Rodon has established himself as a starter in 2016. Giolito should make his White Sox debut this spring. He was the primary piece Chicago got in the trade deadline deal with the Washington Nationals for outfielder Adam Eaton.
Overall, Chicago’s rotation doesn’t have the top-end guy just yet, though Rodon or Giolito could eventually become that. With guys likes Holland, Quintana and Shields, Chicago will have a chance to compete in every game it plays on its starting rotation alone.
While the rotation looks decent, the White Sox stating lineup is not anything close to pushing for a postseason berth. They have power at the corners in the form of first basemen Jose Abreu and third basemen Todd Frazier, but that comes at a price of a sub-.250 batting average.
Chicago has speed up the middle with Tim Anderson at shortstop and second basemen Tyler Saladino. Yoan Moncada will keep things interesting as a top prospect in their minor league system. He will likely overtake Saladino at second, maybe get some time at third if Frazier goes into a slump.
Catcher looks to be a point of major weakness with Geovany Soto behind the dish. The outfield isn’t glamorous either. Melky Cabrera has always been able to hit, so he’ll be an important bat for the White Sox at either leadoff or the two-hole. Peter Bourjos can fly in centerfield, but it remains to be seen what he can do at the plate. Avisail Garcia is just a guy in right field.
Overall, the White Sox have little room for error in lineup construction. Abreu and Frazier will need to play like All-Stars to keep Chicago alive in the central. Cabrera will be solid wherever he hits in the lineup. It really comes down to if Anderson or maybe Moncada can elevate the White Sox’s weak batting order when they come to bat. 2017 will be a feast or famine type of offensive season for the White Sox. That rarely bodes well and rampant strikeouts could be Chicago’s Achilles’ Heel.
While the starting rotation for the White Sox is good, it’s best area of the team might be its bullpen. They have a sure-thing in closer David Robertson to keep things steady in the ninth inning.
Chicago has a handful of relievers that had a sub-3.00 ERA in 2016. Some of those relievers include right-hander Nate Jones, left-hander Dan Jennings, right-hander Zach Putnam and right-hander Michael Ynoa.
In short, Chicago has the arm talent across the board to win low-scoring games routinely. The White Sox can perhaps lean on its bullpen more than it can on its slightly above-average rotation. If Chicago wants to contend in the American League, this will have to be a pitching-first product on the field for the White Sox.
An All-Star level season from Robertson will go a long way in keeping the White Sox viable in the American League Central. Cleveland looks to be the top dog in that division yet again in 2017. The Minnesota Twins will likely struggle this summer. A stout White Sox bullpen could have the south siders finishing anywhere from second to fourth in the American League Central.
The Robin Ventura era in Chicago came to an end last season. Replacing him in the White Sox dugout will be last season’s bench coach Rick Renteria. This will be the second managerial job that Renteria will have in four seasons. He managed the lousy 2014 Chicago Cubs on the north side of town before Joe Maddon came to the Windy City in 2015.
In his one season leading the Cubs, Chicago went 73-89 under Renteria, obviously failing to reach the National League Postseason. That was a team still in rebuilding mode, but the Cubs couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hire the best tactician in baseball today.
Renteria is a former middle infielder, having bounced around the big leagues as a player from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. He is familiar with what the White Sox players have to offer after being with the club last season. His indelible mark on this team will be on how the White Sox play up the middle. A lot of his success as a manager hinges on Anderson and Saladino’s play, as well as Moncada’s development at the major league level.
Since Chicago gave Ventura five years to manage the White Sox, look for owner Jerry Reinsdorf to give Renteria more than one year to run the ship in this new era of White Sox baseball. If he’s able to get this team to play close to .500 ball in year one, it could set up a nice 2018 campaign for the White Sox. Look for Renteria to set the tone for how the White Sox will play for the rest of the decade with a good foundation in 2017.
So the White Sox know that they should be good at the plate two through four with Cabrera, Abreu and Frazier in some order. To set the plate for those three run producers has to be Anderson at shortstop hitting leadoff.
He’s not extremely fast, but Anderson has a good pair of legs beneath him. It also helps that he handles the bat well from the right side of the plate. Anderson can hit for average and some power. He’s going to be Curtis Granderson atop the White Sox lineup, but Anderson could be a compelling leadoff hitter for a decent to good White Sox team.
Anderson will have to anchor the double-play tandem up the middle. He was drafted in the first round by the White Sox to eventually do so. With Abreu and Frazier already proven commodities at the corners, a lot of the attention in the infield will be put on Anderson’s plate to succeed in year two.
Moncada will be a good player when he does ripen in the big leagues. Now that Anderson has had more than a cup of coffee at the major league level, let’s see what he can do in his first full season as a sure-thing in the middle of the White Sox infield. If the White Sox contend for a Wild Card berth, Anderson’s ascendance will be a big reason for that climb.
Chicago went 78-84 last season, finishing in fourth place in the American League Central, ahead of only the terrible Minnesota Twins. Barring a public display of pitching prominence, the White Sox won’t challenge the Indians for the division crown.
Look for Chicago to be better than the Twins again this spring. It will be tough for them to leapfrog Detroit in the Central, but a continued fall for the Kansas City Royals can’t be ruled out entirely. In short, Chicago has a high ceiling of a second place finish in the Central, but a realistic fourth-place floor.
So how do the White Sox stack up with the rest of the American League? They will probably be better than the Tampa Bay Rays of the American League East and maybe better than the Oakland Athletics of the American League West. Realistically, fourth place in the Central and 12th place in the American League seems about right.
In all fairness, this is a sub-.500 team that might play better than it did last year, but finish with a worse record. It has to get worse before it gets better with the White Sox. A 75-87 mark on the 2017 MLB season seems fair. Then again, this team could go 81-81 or finish 67-95. So much of the White Sox’s success rides on no regression whatsoever on the mound and the long ball coming into play often on offense.