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Series Preview: Mariners (7-1) at White Sox (2-3)

Baseball is finally back.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Kansas City Royals Peter G. Aiken

It wouldn’t be a proper start to the season without a Midwest road trip derailed by bad weather. I guess that’s why they schedule these awkward off days in the middle of these opening series. At least this time, there’s no snow or freezing temperatures in the forecast. There’s a chance of rain on Sunday, but the first two games of the series should be played under bright blue, chilly Chicago skies.

At a Glance

Mariners White Sox
Mariners White Sox
Game 1 Friday, April 5 | 11:10 am
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Reynaldo López
52% 48%
Game 2 Saturday, April 6 | 11:10 am
RHP Mike Leake RHP Lucas Giolito
55% 45%
Game 3 Sunday, April 7 | 11:10 am
LHP Wade LeBlanc RHP Iván Nova
53% 47%
Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview White Sox (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Overview White Sox (2018) Mariners (2018) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 92 (11th in AL) 101 (7th in AL) Mariners
Fielding (DRS) -56 (13th) -23 (11th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 122 (15th) 100 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (5th) 94 (4th) Mariners

With an extra off day spent in Chicago, the Mariners should be well rested for this first road trip of the season. But since Thursday’s game was postponed a day, these next seventeen games are now tied for the longest stretch of play without an off day this season. They’ll have a chance to beat up on a couple of weak AL Central teams before returning home to host the Astros next weekend.

The White Sox seem like they’re on the precipice of moving on from their years long rebuilding phase. They were heavily connected to both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper this offseason, though they landed neither. Even though it sounded like they were ready to spend a bunch of money to secure a top free agent, they ended up adding just $15.5 million in payroll through free agency, signing Jon Jay, James McCann, and Kelvin Herrera to modest contracts. Their biggest move was to lock up their top prospect Eloy Jiménez to a six-year extension before he had even made his major league debut.

White Sox Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Leury García RF S 258 0.355 86 0.8
Tim Anderson SS R 606 0.289 85 2.8
José Abreu 1B R 553 0.294 114 -1.5
Yonder Alonso DH L 574 0.283 97 -0.9
Eloy Jiménez LF R 456 0.358 168
Yoán Moncada 3B S 650 0.344 97 2.2
Yolmer Sánchez 2B R 662 0.300 87 0.1
James McCann C R 457 0.282 58 -4.1
Adam Engel CF R 463 0.322 68 3.1
All Stats from 2018; Jiménez’s stats from Double-A and Triple-A

With Jiménez under contract now, all the questions about service-time manipulation have fallen by the wayside. He’s easily the best outfielder in their system by a landslide so holding him down in Triple-A to start the season would have screamed shenanigans. The 22-year-old has started in every game so far this season but hasn’t had his big moment yet. Jiménez will need a lot of support to turn this franchise around. Yoán Moncada hasn’t really lived up to all the prospect hype he received after coming over to the States from Cuba. He’s turned into a nice role player but is far from the star everyone thought he’d be. José Abreu, another Cuban immigrant, might be a little too old to be considered part of the core the White Sox are building around. He had a rough year last year, suffering through a groin injury and an unrelated infection in his leg. It’s possible Chicago will keep him around to provide veteran leadership for their young prospects, but he’s a free agent after this season so he might be more valuable to them as a trade piece this summer.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Reynaldo López

188 2/3 18.9% 9.4% 9.5% 33.0% 3.91 4.63
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 61.6% 95.9 2102 117 87 104
Changeup 15.8% 84.0 1541 118 88 104
Curveball 5.6% 76.1 2065 96 54 107
Slider 17.0% 84.1 2121 91 105 116
Stuff+ Explainer

Reynaldo López wasn’t the headlining piece for the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade, but he might have developed into the best pitcher of the three prospects that Chicago acquired. The hard-throwing right-hander made a full 32 starts last season with some mixed results. His strikeout rate is rather low for someone who averages 96 mph on their fastball. His secondary offerings just aren’t good enough to generate enough whiffs for a higher strikeout rate. Of his two breaking balls, his slider is better from a results standpoint, but his curveball was seen as a plus pitch while he was a prospect. He started to throw his slider more often last season and that trend has carried over to his lone start this year. With a batted ball profile that leans heavily towards fly balls, he’s been pretty home run prone, especially at home. But it also means he excels at inducing pop flies.

RHP Lucas Giolito

173 1/3 16.1% 11.6% 13.4% 44.4% 6.13 5.56
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 39.5% 92.8 2094 78 79 99
Sinker 19.9% 92.8 1989 70 84 107
Changeup 15.3% 82.2 1649 131 120 124
Curveball 10.1% 79.0 2358 74 65 113
Slider 15.1% 84.2 2020 87 106 119

Lucas Giolito was the headliner in the Adam Eaton trade but he’s really struggled to fulfill all those expectations placed on him as one of the league’s top pitching prospects. His biggest hurdle has been the deterioration of the raw stuff in his arsenal. At one point, his fastball was averaging 97 mph before making the jump to pro ball. But since being drafted and working his way through two minor league systems, his fastball velocity has dropped year-over-year, until it sat 93 mph last year. His secondary pitches haven’t fared any better. His curveball was once thought to be the best curveball thrown by any pitching prospect in the game. It’s merely an afterthought in his repertoire now. He does possess a couple of decent pitches in his changeup and slider. Because they had nothing to lose, the White Sox ran him out for 32 starts last season and he posted the worst line by a qualified pitcher by a wide margin. They’re hoping that big league experience will help him continue to hone and develop his arsenal. It might have done more damage to his confidence instead.

RHP Iván Nova

161 16.7% 5.1% 14.8% 45.6% 4.19 4.57
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 31.9% 93.6 2296 112 68 101
Sinker 35.0% 93.2 2178 142 112 87
Changeup 12.0% 87.0 2018 91 97 100
Curveball 21.1% 81.0 2250 83 124 76

The White Sox acquired Iván Nova from the Pirates this offseason to give them some veteran innings while their pitching prospects figure things out. He’s been a league average starter for a few years now, though nothing really stands out in his approach. He rarely walks opposing batters which helps him avoid running high ERAs. But his strikeout rate is lackluster and he’s been extremely home run prone despite pitching in the pitcher’s haven of PNC Park. Moving to Chicago and pitching half of his games in Guaranteed Rate Field won’t do him any favors.

The Big Picture:

Projected Standings (FiveThirtyEight)

Team W-L W% Win Division Make Playoffs
Team W-L W% Win Division Make Playoffs
Astros 98-64 0.605 74.0% 86.0%
Athletics 83-79 0.512 11.0% 32.0%
Angels 80-82 0.494 7.0% 22.0%
Mariners 79-83 0.488 6.0% 18.0%
Rangers 70-92 0.432 0.0% 3.0%

FiveThirtyEight is usually the most optimistic of the projection systems. They’re using a completely different model than FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus but it turns out it’s just as effective in predicting what might happen. The Mariners hot start has already improved their playoff odds significantly. They’ve added 12 points to their playoff odds and are now predicted to end the season with an 83-79 record.