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South Side Mailbag – 2021 ALDS Edition

by Sox On 35th Contributors

We’ve made it White Sox fans!! There has been very little doubt as to if the White Sox would take the AL Central Division, and because of that, the season really started to drag towards the last month or so. The White Sox are playing some really good ball as of late, which is exactly what you want to see heading into the postseason.

With the ALDS ready to get underway tomorrow in Houston, what better time to answer some questions in our next edition of the South Side Mailbag!

Let’s open that mail.

Who is the X-Factor coming into this series?

Ryan Wilson: For me, it’s Dylan Cease. You would be hard-pressed to find a starter in this rotation with more “stuff” than Cease. If he struggles with control, it’s going to be a long day, but if he reels it in, he’s one of the nastiest pitchers in the game. They will need him to be that other big name in the playoff rotation. Chances are he has an opportunity to shine in a big game back at Guaranteed Rate Field. I think he’s ready for it.

Tim Moran: There are certainly many options I can go with here, but I’m going to say Lance Lynn. Whether he pitches one or two games, the fact is that his track record against the Houston Astros over the past few years is not good. Earlier this year, Lucas Giolito pitched a gem against Houston and Dylan Cease was much improved in his second game vs. the Astros, but Lynn faltered in his one outing. The South Siders could desperately use a quality start out of him to hopefully head back to Chicago tied 1-1 or up 2-0. 

Nicole Reitz: The X-Factor coming into this series is Michael Kopech. Despite his injuries, part of the reason for keeping him as a reliever for the season was to limit innings pitched in order for him to be equipped for October. His arm is more than ready and I think he may even find himself in the starting rotation. 

Eric Mehon: Michael Kopech: As an X-Factor, I think Kopech checks all the boxes. My main reasoning here is that he could either be the perfect stopper after a great outing from one of the starters OR if one of them starts goes poorly, he can put out the fire. If Rodon or Cease were to struggle, Kopech can restore calm to the pitching staff and give the offense a chance to score some runs in a comeback scenario. This offense can be potent, therefore trailing in a game early may not pose a feeling of despair if your first bullpen arm can throw two to three innings and keep posting zeros.  

Justin Salgado: Over the last month of the season, Yoan Moncada finally started to find his stride again. In September/October, he slashed .261 AVG/.376 OBP/.467 SLG/.844 OPS. A player with Moncada’s knowledge of the strike
zone will always have a decent on-base percentage; the portion that sticks out the most to me is the slugging percentage. Moncada FINALLY started hitting the ball with more authority in the last portion of the season. Having him on a hot streak going into the postseason is a game-changer because having a player of his caliber batting 6th (his most likely spot for the playoffs) gives the Sox an All-Star-caliber power threat in the mid/lower portion of their lineup.

Which player has most to prove?

RW: It may seem like a weird answer, but for me, it’s Luis Robert. I know, I know. He’s been outstanding, but this is a shot for him to have his so-called coming out party. With the national audience watching, it’s moments like these that will last a long time. I not only think it’s a good opportunity for him to make that name of his stand out amongst the games elite, but I think he will do just that as well.

TM:  I’ll go with Craig Kimbrel. He has struggled in the second half after a historically good first-half run with the North Siders, and he has questions to answer over his status as an elite reliever. Given all the veteran playoff experience he has, will we see Kimbrel assert his dominance once again or continue to slide? 

NR: Cesar Hernandez has the most to prove in this series. Since joining the Sox, his batting average has dropped off and his defense has even been questionable at times. The debate for who should be at second base has been tossed around again. Hernandez is really going to need to step up his game or we might be seeing more of Leury Garcia. 

EM: Dylan Cease: I am not sure he has the MOST to prove, but I would include him on a shortlist. Frankly, it isn’t even a situation where if he pitches poorly, it will alter his path to a successful career. My trust in Giolito and Lynn allows for me to pick Cease as the starter looking to prove to everyone that he can be trusted for games of this magnitude. Rodon was very much in my mind initially, but I think he proved more to fans and teammates alike with his wonderful (and unexpected) season. Cease is a young man that has every tool you could ask for. If he delivers, I think winning this series becomes far more achievable.

JS: After a month of August (.287 AVG/.328 OBP/.537 SLG/.865 OPS) where Eloy Jimenez reminded people of his Silver Slugger caliber bat, Jimenez came crashing back to earth in September (.213 AVG/.288 OBP/.319 SLG/.608 OPS). This cold spell by Jimenez has forced manager Tony La Russa to adjust his lineup recently, bumping Eloy down to fifth in favor of a red-hot Yasmani Grandal. Jimenez is a player that can carry an offense when he is locked in. Eloy missed out on the postseason activities against Oakland last season, where he was limited to only two at-bats due to a sprained foot. This season, Sox
fans only got to see Jimenez for 55 games due to a torn pec he suffered in Spring Training. Finally healthy, Jimenez has a chance to show the baseball world how special a player he can be under the brightest October lights.

Who on the White Sox, if anyone, gives you pause or concern?

RW: Carlos Rodon is the easy answer given his fatigue, but I’m going with Eloy Jimenez. He has been struggling at the plate and having some difficulty getting the ball in the air. Given the top half of the lineup, he is going to have multiple opportunities to come up in big situations, and the White Sox will need him to make good on them.

TM: Unfortunately, I would say that Eloy Jimenez is concerning me a bit. At the 5 spot in the lineup, he’s going to come up to bat in some pretty tense situations, and his slump in mid-late September was a disappointing development. The White Sox will need him to return to form to really anchor the middle of the lineup. 

NR: The only player who gives me concern is Carlos Rodon just because of the soreness and fatigue he has been experiencing. He threw five scoreless innings during his last start against the Reds, but with unusually low velocity. That may cause doubt on his ability to compete with Houston’s lineup. 

EM: Carlos Rodon: This is almost 100% based upon his health. The main issue is that if he was to only be able to go for three innings, I assume this brings Michael Kopech on to relieve him (exactly what happened in his final start of the season). I worry that this will cause Kopech to handle more innings than desired, which may preclude him from being used the following day. If Rodon is forced to exit his start early, the taxation created for the remaining pitchers in the pen worries me. 

JS: When Craig Kimbrel is on, he is one of the filthiest pitchers in all of baseball with his heavy fastball and devastating knuckle-curve combo. This is what Sox fans thought they were acquiring when Rick Hahn swung a trade for Kimbrel at the trade deadline in July. What the Sox got instead was a mixed bag of results from Kimbrel. While the strikeout numbers were still elite (CHC K/9: 15.7, CHW K/9: 14.1), his home runs allowed numbers shot up (CHC HR/9: 0.2, CHW HR/9: 2.0) following the trade to the South Side of Chicago. While Kimbrel still has the elite arsenal, he has not been able to command his pitches as well since he was acquired by the Sox. With Houston having a potent lineup, Kimbrel’s high leverage pitching appearances have the potential to be nerve-wracking this October.

Prediction For ALDS?

RW: I got the White Sox splitting one of the first two games in Houston, and then riding the momentum back in Chicago to a 3-1 series victory. Most of this is in large part to me wanting nothing to do with a Game 5 at Minute Maid Park. No thank you. Sox in 4.

TM: In my completely, definitely not biased opinion, I have a lot of faith in the White Sox. They’ve really seemed to catch their groove with the fully healthy roster recently, and I trust Giolito/Lynn to pull out one win in Houston. From there, with such a good record at home and a raucous crowd in attendance, it feels right for the White Sox to win both and come away with a 3-1 series victory. 

NR: In classic 2005 fashion, the Sox sweep Houston. Then, we move on to play the Rays in the ALCS. 

EM: I predict the White Sox will win the series in 5 games. I really dislike the draw versus the Astros. They are a confident bunch who have played in the biggest of games and moments. Their pedigree is something the White Sox cannot match, as this is unfamiliar ground for our club. Leadership coming from Anderson, Abreu, and Lance Lynn helps to settle my anxiety largely, and frankly, I have too much faith in the club to predict them losing. Either way, I don’t intend on sleeping this week.

JS: Many critics are quick to point out the Astros 5-2 season series record against the White Sox when analyzing this matchup. However, during the series in Houston in June, the Sox were without at least three to four hitters that will most likely comprise their game one lineup. I also believe that the White Sox have an edge with their pitching in this series. I think the Astros take game one, and then the White Sox will take game two against Framber Valdez (White Sox have been significantly better against left-handed pitching last two seasons). With the series split coming back to Chicago, the White Sox will thrive in an environment where they had the best home record in the American League this season. Sox close it out in game four when Rodon and Kopech combine for six shutout innings.

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