What’s up White Sox fans? We are already halfway through September and there is a possibility our White Sox can clinch the division this week. They are 83-61 and hold a commanding 12.5-game lead on the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, leaving the magic number sitting at just 7. It’s hard not to look ahead to October, so while our Sox look to focus on locking up a division crown, we will do everyone else a favor and look ahead.
That’s right everyone! The South Side Mailbag is full of questions, so it’s time to open it up and let our contributors here at Sox on 35th respond.
Time to open the mailbag!
Has Leury Garcia played his way into the starting 2B job come playoff time?
Ryan Wilson: If you would have asked me a few weeks ago, it would have been a firm no from me. That has changed, however. Over his last 15 games, he’s batting .357 with 2 home runs (one big walk-off) and 9 RBI’s. He’s also been rock-solid in the infield as well. He’s a veteran on this team and one that I think will serve valuable come playoff time. Hernandez came over to the White Sox at the end of July and made a quick impact, but since then has been mediocre at best.
With all that said, there is still time left in the regular season for both of these guys to step up and show what they got, but if the season ended today, I’d be perfectly fine with “Leury Legend” at second base for our Sox.
Justin Salgado: Let’s look at two players slash lines over the last 28 days:
Player A: 15 G 56 ABs .357 AVG/.397 OBP/.554 SLG/.950 OPS
Player B: 23 G 87 ABs .195 AVG/.245 OBP/.241 SLG/.486 OPS
If you guessed that Leury “Legend” Garcia was Player A, you would be correct! He has been nothing short of sensational since Tim Anderson went on the IL with leg soreness. While the sample size is admittedly larger for Cesar Hernandez (Player B), he has been struggling mightily since he had a hot first week since being acquired from Cleveland. If the goal is to play your best 9 players, I think you’d have to ride the hot hand when choosing between these two players. While Hernandez
is an excellent defender (81st percentile OAA), I don’t believe the drop-off to Garcia (62nd percentile OAA) is enough to justify leaving his bat out of the playoff starting lineup.
Michael Suareo: I initially wanted to say no, but a quick look at the numbers has changed my mind. It isn’t as much whether or not he has earned it (it would be hard to argue that he hasn’t), but you also have to take into account that Cesar Hernandez just hasn’t been good enough to earn a starting job on a playoff team. From July 30th (Hernandez’s first game with the Sox) through September 12th, he has hit put up a pedestrian .211/.289/.282 slash line with an abysmal 59 wRC+, while Garcia has put up a much more respectable .293/.355/.439 slash line and a 119 wRC+ in the same time period. The two players have just been night and day at the plate lately, and while Hernandez probably has a leg up on defense at the position, that isn’t enough to overcome the gap in offensive production.
Adam Kaplan: As of the writing of this post, it would be foolish if #LeuryLegend did not get consistent at-bats come playoff time, and the most likely defensive position for him to play (assuming everyone is healthy, and right now that’s a big “if”) is at second base. Since coming over from Cleveland, César Hernández is slashing .211/.289/.282, good for a dazzling 59 wRC+. Meanwhile, Leury García is slashing .291/.351/.430, good for an actually dazzling 116 wRC+ during that same time frame. Further, Leury hit two home runs during the last series against Boston, including a game-winning bomb on Sunday. If Leury García is hot, ride his hotness for as long as it lasts.
However, all of that being said, García’s career triple-slash line is .257/.300/.362, and there was a reason Rick Hahn felt like he needed to trade for a second baseman at the trade deadline. When Leury’s bat gets cold, he can be pretty brutal. Even with the hot streak he’s on, he still does not have a wRC+ above 100 on the season (it’s currently at 96) which helps illustrate the lulls that he’s had throughout the year.
The playoffs can be a fickle mistress and I hope Leury’s bat can help the Sox in the thick of October. As it stands today, he’s more than earned his spot in many starting lineups. However, it also wouldn’t surprise me if October brings about a slump.
What should the bullpen look like in October?
RW: I imagine La Russa goes with a 4-man starting rotation of Lynn, Rodon, Giolito and Cease, which would send Dallas Keuchel to the bullpen. He has had a disappointing season, but the reality is he could serve better in the bullpen because it keeps him from facing a lineup multiple times, which is where he typically gets in the most trouble.
Then you have the mortal locks in Hendricks, Kimbrel, Kopech, Crochet, Bummer, and Tepera, leaving one spot left. I can’t see any scenario in which that doesn’t involve Reynaldo Lopez, who would be perfect in a situation where he would be needed to come on in a long relief scenario.
JS: As we’ve seen in the past, playoff games usually come down to who has the most firepower coming out of their bullpen at the end of games. Luckily, the White Sox will have an impressive bunch of power arms to lock things down come playoff time. Barring injuries, Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Bummer, and Reynaldo Lopez are locks for the postseason roster. To me, the last spot essentially will come down to Dallas Keuchel or Jose Ruiz. While Keuchel is obviously the more experienced option, he simply hasn’t performed well enough to warrant a spot on the
postseason roster (7.50 ERA in the 2nd half). Ruiz has not only performed better (3.22 ERA in the 2nd half), but he also has the livelier arm of the two options. To me, this is an easy decision for the team to make.
MS: My roster prediction includes 14 batters and 4 starters (Rodon, Lynn, Giolito, and Cease) leaving room for 8 bullpen arms on the playoff roster. Your locks are the 8-9th inning combo of Hendriks and Kimbrel, and your other regular relief options in Kopech, Crochet, Bummer, and Tepera. That leaves two spots left, and the way Reynaldo Lopez has come back with a vengeance this season, there’s no way you can leave him off of this roster. For the final spot, the reliever that makes the most sense is Jose Ruiz, but his numbers in high leverage situations should be enough to keep him far away from being a roster lock. In my opinion, Dallas Keuchel gets the final spot in the bullpen. While his performance this season has left a lot to be desired, he has the World Series experience, and he can fill in for multiple innings in an emergency situation. His numbers are also a lot better his first time through a lineup with a 4.11 ERA this season vs. his second time with a 5.03 ERA and third time through with an 8.69 ERA (yikes), so a condensed role could benefit him.
AK: Right now, technically, the Sox bullpen consists of Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Bummer, Garrett Crochet, Michael Kopech, José Ruiz, Ryan Burr, and Mike Wright Jr. with ReyLo and Dallas Keuchel as starters. Hendriks, Kimbrel, Tepera, Bummer, Crochet, Kopech, Ruiz, and ReyLo are almost assuredly guaranteed spots for the bullpen roster. Except for Ruiz, all have been great of late or, in the case of someone like Kimbrel, has the potential to be great in the playoffs. Ruiz has been fine and is a useful arm if the Sox are winning or losing by a significant amount where you don’t want to waste a better option.
The three question marks to me are Burr, Wright Jr., and what to do with Keuchel. First Ryan Burr, sir. Despite his 4.23 xERA, 4.58 FIP, and 1.53 K/BB, I still kind of like Burr because he’s only given up earned runs in 5 of his 26 relief appearances. He’s obviously not great by any stretch of the imagination, but like José Ruiz, I still trust him to get a couple of outs in lower leverage situations. Next is Mike Wright Jr. The less said about him, the better. Evan Marshall is currently on a rehab assignment, and when that’s completed, I fully expect the White Sox to send Wright Jr. to AAA to make room for Marshall on the roster.
Lastly, there’s everyone’s favorite opinionated lefty Dallas Keuchel. He’s been okay throughout the season and just horrendous of late. I can’t imagine there is a situation where any rational Sox fan thinks it is a good idea to have Dallas Keuchel pitch in a playoff game (apologies to any of my colleagues if they did recommend Keuchel in their portion of the article, we didn’t see each other’s responses in advance). And without another good viable pitching option on the 40-man roster, I think this “spot” is better off used for a bat off of the bench or a defensive replacement rather than a pitcher.
Favorite moment of the Regular Season?
RW: It has to be the “Stalk Off” right? Can we really find a different one and have it make any sense? This one was extra special for me. Due to Covid and just having a newborn baby, I haven’t been able to see my Dad as much and be able to bond over the thing we love most – sports. This night was one of the few nights he and I got a chance to sit down and watch a game together. I picked up a pizza on the way over and he and I sat in his man cave and watched something we will never be able to see again. The White Sox and Yankees playing in the cornfields of Iowa, just like Field of Dreams. The ups and downs of the games made it so much fun and while it seemed the White Sox may have blown it in the ninth, the night was already special and it just seemed like it would end that way too, which it ultimately did when Anderson hit into the right-field corn stalks. My Dad and I were jumping up and down going crazy. A night I will never forget!
JS: This one is a relatively easy choice for me: Tim Anderson’s walk-off HR at The Field of Dreams Game in Iowa. It’s rare in baseball for a game in the middle of August to have so much hype, let alone deliver on the expectations, but that is exactly what happened on that magical night in Iowa. This one had all the drama of a big postseason game (get used to it Sox fans) and had everyone on the edge of their seats in the 9th inning. When all hope was lost after Liam Hendriks blew the save in the top half of the 9th, Tim Anderson stepped up and sent one into the cornfields in Iowa to create a truly legendary moment in White Sox history.
MS: How could it not be Tim Anderson’s walk-off home run in the Field of Dreams game? Not only was it the perfect ending to one of the best White Sox games in recent memory, but it might be one of the most iconic sports moments of 2021. You know it is a big moment when the national media is talking about us, which is something that hasn’t happened nearly enough. I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment, and I even snagged up the Topps Now baseball card commemorating it as soon as it became available.
AK: The easy (and correct) answer is TA’s walk-off during the Field of Dreams game and the second easy (and correct) answer is Carlos Rodón’s no-hitter versus Cleveland. But I suspect my fellow colleagues will go into great detail about these glorious moments, so I will spend my section praising the early-season MVP of the team: Yermín Mercedes. Despite the eventual slump that rightfully forced the team’s hand in sending him down to Charlotte and those odd couple of days where it looked like he had retired, The Yerminator brought much-needed fun and excitement to the White Sox. Mercedes’s story of trials and tribulations to make it to the big leagues at 28 years old and then eventually earn the honors of AL Rookie of the Month was incredible. From his 2021 debut of eight consecutive hits to breaking out of an 0-25 slump with a walk-off single against the Tigers at the beginning of June, Yermín Mercedes brought me so much joy (as well as Paul Wall clips) that I have to give him a shout out here.
How important is home-field advantage in the post season?
RW: I mentioned my old man in my previous answer so I’m going to bring him in again on this one. He and I have argued over this for the better part of the last two months now. La Russa clearly doesn’t see home field as having that much importance as he continues to rest multiple bats each and every night and now is even resting his arms.
Look, I’m a big advocate of being as healthy as possible going into the postseason, but if that means our White Sox play the first two games of a five-game series at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, that will most definitely be a problem.
The White Sox are 48-25 at home, which is the second-best after the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s clear they have an advantage at home, but it’s a topic that can be argued on both sides.
I obviously want our team healthy, but if we can catch Houston and finish as a top-2 seed in the American League, that will be beneficial in the end. I think there is a way to do rest guys and see that we make that happen, especially with our remaining schedule.
JS: In a short five-game series like the ALDS will be, jumping out to a quick lead will be of vital importance. While the White Sox have a starting rotation that can go into any stadium and win, the White Sox’ home (49-25) vs away (34-36) records are difficult to ignore. For a younger team like the Sox, going into hostile territory like Houston to start the postseason could amplify what are going to be natural postseason jitters. Sox fans have been dying for postseason baseball (no playoff home games since 2008), so the crowd for the first home games will be extra raucous this postseason. Getting the 2nd seed for the first round feels like it could be game-changing for this team.
MS: This is something that LaRussa doesn’t seem to care too much about, though I wish he did. I get that we are sacrificing some wins to keep the roster healthy, which is the most important thing considering the bevy of injuries we have faced this season. However, having the home field is a clear advantage come playoff time, especially considering the difference between the Sox home (49-25) and away (34-36) records this season. Adding on to that, doesn’t it make sense that a team would be a bit more motivated to keep their season alive in front of a stadium packed with their own fans? Maybe I am overthinking it, and this team is more than capable of beating any team on any given night. Despite that, there is no questioning that having the benefit of playing more home games wouldn’t hurt any team, so why not try to get that advantage heading into the post season?
AK: As I suspect everyone in this section will point out, the Chicago White Sox are a far superior team at home than on the road. Further, the White Sox will almost assuredly play the Houston Astros in the first round of the playoffs. During the regular season, the Sox took two of three against the Astros in Comiskey Park Guaranteed Rate Field yet lost in four straight games to them in at Minute Maid Park. It would certainly seem advantageous then if the Sox earned the #2 seed in the American League (it would be even better if the Sox ended up overtaking the Tampa Bay Rays for the #1 seed, but I see very little chance of that happening).
But all of that being said, I think home field advantage matters very little, and if the Sox end the year as the #3 seed in the AL, it’s not the end of the world. The Chicago White Sox are an excellent team and are more than capable of winning playoff games away from Guaranteed Rate Field. What stadium the team plays in will have very little effect on how the players perform and how Tony La Russa manages the game. While I’d personally like the Pale Hose to win as many regular season games as possible, ultimately, TLR is better off using this time in September to see how he wants to use his bullpen and set his line ups come October, and the team is better off getting players healthy.
Would home field advantage be preferred? Sure. Is all lost if the Sox don’t get it? Absolutely not.