Baseball will have its eyes turned to Chicago this weekend, as the Chicago Cubs have reportedly called up uber-prospect Kris Bryant to the major leagues. However, the Cubs, for all their hype, may not even be the best baseball team in their own town this season. The Chicago White Sox retooled their roster this offseason and are one of the four teams that many people think have a legitimate chance to win a wide-open division.
In order to learn more about the White Sox prior to this weekend's series, we spoke to Jim Margalus of South Side Sox, SB Nation's excellent White Sox community. Be sure to check out their site for updates all weekend long, including their series preview.
1. The White Sox stumbled out of the gate, losing their first four games. They have won three of their last four, and look much more like the team that many believe can contend for an AL Central title this year. What have you seen out of them so far this season that has you optimistic about their chances? Is there anything about the first seven games that concerns you?
There’s definitely more talent on the field than there has been in previous years. The bullpen has already struck out the side twice as many times as they did all of last year, and the bench is more useful. The overall product is sloppy right now. Maybe that’s because there’s a bit of an adjustment period until the team becomes cohesive … or it could be just a root flaw of the team that the new guys can't solve (or maybe they even exacerbate it). That's the biggest question right now, at least one that isn't entirely based on small sample concerns.
2. Chris Sale has defied logic throughout his career, becoming one of the best pitchers in the game despite a delivery that no one thought would be able to withstand the rigors of an MLB season. We know what he's good at, but is there any aspect of his game that he needs to improve on? Have we seen the best of Sale yet? Is his left elbow just made of bubble gum and rubber bands?
The only drawback for Sale is that he tends to miss a few starts throughout the year. But he’s still averaged 193 innings over the last three years, so it's not a huge issue -- especially when he’s so dominant per start. Otherwise, his pickoff move could use some work, maybe?
3. The White Sox shelled out six years and $68 million to Jose Abreu, a contract that was surprising last year and now looks like a bargain. Is it reasonable to expect that season again, or will he slide backward some in year two? If you needed a base hit with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, would you rather have him or Miguel Cabrera at the plate?
I don't think there’s any reason to expect worse from Abreu, aside from natural fluctuations in performance. He hits for power, but he also has a number of different swings to get his hits when he’s getting pitcher's pitches. His production might take different shapes, but overall, he should continue being a very valuable hitter. I’d rather have Cabrera up in a big spot, because Abreu’s still green enough to where he has the occasional amateurish at-bat, but his ugly stretches don't last long.
4. Tigers fans can't stand White Sox play-by-play announcer Hawk Harrelson, a sentiment I'm sure you've heard many times before from multiple sources. What do White Sox fans think of Hawk?
Hawk is divisive among White Sox fans, too. The split isn't because he’s a homer -- I actually like that about him, and I smile at how soft non-Sox fans sound when they whine about listening to him for 10 seconds. And it's not like other teams' broadcast teams are stellar and Hawk's lagging behind in terms of being a great listen. Most fans are just used to weak coffee.
The split is due to an overwhelming lack of curiosity about the game. Not even so much the rejection of sabermetrics, because that's not necessary to have a good broadcast. He just doesn't make much of an effort to stay on top of teams that aren't playing in front of him. And in-game, he relies too much on truisms that he makes more profound than they have to be ("It doesn't matter what your starters do, the game's a battle of the bullpens," "you can’t let your mechanics dictate your approach," etc.), and he shoehorns too many observations to fit those prefab pearls of wisdom, rather than just reacting to what's happening, or reacting to what the person next to him is saying.
It’s a shame, because when something good happens for the Sox, I still like having him on the call.
5. Sunday's starter hasn't officially been announced yet, but it appears that the Sox will have their three best starters available to face the Tigers. How concerned are you about the other two spots in the rotation? When will we see Carlos Rodon, and do you think he will be an impact starter right away?
Carlos Rodon is the real deal. I think the biggest issue with him early will be inefficiency. His slider is a hard pitch to put in play, and I can see a lot of seven-pitch at-bats in his near future. Five-inning, 90+ pitch outings. That kind of thing. He's a very nice sixth starter, and so he reduces concern about worrying about one of Danks or Noesi individually. The seventh starter is a bigger problem, and Danks/Noesi have to make sure the Sox don't have to dip into the sub-replacement well.
6. The Tigers and Royals have raced out in front in the early season AL Central standings, but this was billed as a four-team race for most of the offseason. How do you think the division will shake out this season? Do the injuries that the Indians have suffered benefit one of the other teams more than another?
The Indians are kind of weak against lefties right now, and since the Sox might have four of them in the rotation, that’s pretty cool. But I still see this being a four-team race all the way through. If they all get to the trade deadline intact, I'm expecting an arms race. The White Sox didn't mortgage the farm over the offseason, the Indians have prospects and the lowest payroll, and the Tigers are the Tigers.
Once again, a big thank you to Jim and the rest of the South Side Sox staff for answering our questions. Be sure to follow them on Twitter and check out their site for all things Chicago White Sox all season long!