3 Keys for the Chicago White Sox Taking Weekend Series vs. Kansas City Royals
Opening Day brought with it errorless baseball, 7.1 solid innings from Chris Sale and the type of timely hitting that was missing much of last season. The effort provided White Sox fans with a glimpse of what this team is capable of doing and validated—if only slightly—the work general manager Rick Hahn did this offseason.
Felipe Paulino followed up Sale’s effort by giving up one earned run and striking out six in his first big league appearance since 2012. Unfortunately, the bullpen fell apart, and it took a dramatic comeback to force extras before winning 7-6 on a wild pitch in 11 innings.
In the series finale, Jose Abreu hit an RBI double and a three-run triple, Alejandro De Aza hit his third home run of the season and the bullpen gave up five runs in what ended up being a one-run loss. Simply put, it was a painful end to a mercurial game.
That's what the fanbase should expect to see a lot of this season, though. There will be games that Hahn's vision for the future is fully realized and others where memories of 2013 are bound to be revisited.
Now the White Sox get set to open up a three-game set against the Kansas City Royals, hoping to put the pain of Thursday’s loss behind them and get back on track.
Here are three things that will determine their fate at Kauffman Stadium.
3. Chris Sale and John Danks Need to Deliver
Erik Johnson, who starts on Friday, is an unknown variable in the weekend matchup. That is not to say he won't pitch admirably, but taking the series against the Kansas City Royals will largely hinge on how well John Danks and Chris Sale pitch. If past performance is used as a barometer for future success, though, the White Sox should be just fine.
Danks, who is scheduled to start on Saturday, simply owns the Royals. In 13 starts, the left-hander is 6-0 with a 2.47 ERA and a rather impressive 1.171 WHIP. The dominance runs deeper than overall results, though.
He has held Billy Butler to a .188 batting average against (BAA) and a .438 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) in 32 at-bats. He has also held Alex Gordon to a .459 OPS and Mike Moustakas to a paltry .348 OPS. Continuing to shut down these three hitters is a sure-fire way to minimize the damage the Royals' potent lineup can inflict.
Sale’s record (5-7) against the Royals may not be as good, but he is just as dominant. In 21 appearances, he has collected 72 strikeouts in 84.0 innings and has a 1.226 WHIP. One matchup to keep an eye on here is with Butler, who has owned the staff ace to the tune of a .412 BAA and a 1.183 OPS.
If Sale can keep Butler in check and Danks can keep doing what he already does, the White Sox will be in good shape.
2. The Pitching Staff and Defense Can't Give Any Runs Away
As we saw in the second game of the season, the White Sox have a terrible time overcoming errors and walks. In the second inning, Leury Garcia misplayed a ball hit by Oswaldo Arcia, who ended up scoring the first run of the game on a—wait for it—bases-loaded walk.
In the seventh, Scott Downs and Nate Jones walked the first two batters in what ended up being a three-run frame for the Minnesota Twins. A similar fate fell upon Jose Quintana in the third inning of the series finale. Daryl Van Schouwen from the Chicago Sun-Times summed the inning up:
White Sox, Quintana can't survive dropped 3rd strike, botched rundown, two walks. Colabello makes it hurt with 3-run double.— Daryl Van Schouwen (@CST_soxvan) April 3, 2014
For whatever reason, the White Sox are woeful when it comes to overcoming miscues and free passes. And considering that the Royals have a much better offense than the Twins do, limiting the number of baserunners is vital if there is any hope of winning the series.
To be sure, this is not a novel concept. Dating back to last season, however, it is one that seems to be lost on the Pale Hose far too often.
1. Find a Way to Get to Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen
Apparently, this is not lost on Royals manager Ned Yost, who “had this rotation set up for Jeremy Guthrie starting Opening Day (in Kansas City) since the first day of spring training,” per the Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough. Wise decision, Ned.
Guthrie, who has amassed a 4.24 ERA and 1.321 WHIP over his career, has always pitched well against the White Sox. In 21 appearances (19 starts), he has a 3.45 ERA and a 1.128 WHIP while only allowing a .242 BAA. And make no mistake, that is a sizeable difference.
Chen, who gets the nod on Saturday according to McCullough, is even more vexing. Consider that he owns a lifetime 1.368 WHIP and 4.49 ERA, but against the White Sox those respective numbers drop to 1.200 and 3.57. He has a way of keeping the hitters off-balance with what is generally an underwhelming repertoire.
One thing the lineup has going for it is that Guthrie and Chen will be facing three regulars—Jose Abreu, Marcus Semien and Adam Eaton—who they are unfamiliar with. That could give the lineup a bit of an edge. And against these two, any edge is a welcome one.