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

After a rare Sunday off day, the M’s take on one of MLB’s up and comers who are coming off a down and out weekend.

Chicago White Sox v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

A plucky performance from the Seattle Mariners combined with a largely listless San Francisco Giants club has the M’s sitting at 2-1 out the gate. Rest shouldn’t be a massive issue after just three games, but the peculiar Sunday off day between home series should have the M’s fresh and full health, save for the still-sidelined Kyle Lewis. They’ll be facing a club many picked to be a breakout division winner in 2021: the Chicago White Sox. Chicago is coming to town fresh off a disappointing four game set in Anaheim, capped with a walk-off loss last night that gave fans plenty of reason to question the conservative bullpen usage of their new Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.

At a Glance

White Sox Mariners
White Sox Mariners
Game 1 Monday, April 5 | 7:10 pm
LHP Carlos Rodón LHP Justus Sheffield
48% 52%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 6 | 7:10 pm
RHP Lucas Giolito LHP James Paxton
53% 47%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 7 | 1:10 pm
LHP Dallas Keuchel RHP Justin Dunn
52% 48%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Overview White Sox Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 113 (2nd in AL) 91 (12th in AL) White Sox
Fielding (DRS) 27 (1st) 14 (5th) White Sox
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 102 (8th) 98 (4th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 88 (5th) 132 (15th) White Sox
2020 stats

Welcome to another year of series previews. If you’re a regular Lookout Landing reader, welcome back. If you’re a new face, welcome home. This will be my eighth year writing these previews—a passage of time I can hardly believe. Above, you’ll see a brief overview of the upcoming series: probable pitchers, game times, and a rundown of the Mariners and their opponents. Below, you’ll see the Mariners’ opponents laid out in more detail: projected lineups, key players, and pitcher analysis. You may have seen the new Stuff+ metric I introduced a few years ago—you’ll see those scores integrated into my pitcher analysis throughout the year. Finally, you’ll get a view of the big picture: AL West and Wild Card standings. As always, I appreciate your feedback and hope that these features continue to be helpful and educational.

Whereas the Giants are struggling to overcome a super-team and a super-team aspirant in the Dodgers and Padres, the ChiSox have the luxury of playing in what has been MLB’s weakest division in many regards for the past several years. While Cleveland maintained a strong grip on the AL Central for the back half of the 2010s after Detroit’s decline and Kansas City’s cometic stretch of contention, the penny-pinching of Cleveland’s ownership dragged the club into mediocrity and allowed Minnesota to traipse to back-to-back division titles. With Detroit and Kansas City still somewhere between cellar-dwelling and half-heartedly going through the motions, the 2020 White Sox blitzed to their first winning record since 2012 and first playoff appearance since 2008.

The club has a strong young core, with six of their last nine first round picks on the roster (Tim Anderson, Carlos Rodón, Zack Collins, Nick Madrigal, Andrew Vaughn, Garrett Crochet), a few standouts from their 2016 fire sale (Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito, and the injured Eloy Jimenez,), and Rookie of the Year runner-up Luis Robert who the club signed out of Cuba. They’ve been aggressive the past couple winters after running a threadbare budget for years, adding veterans to their rotation, bullpen, and lineup to join mainstay and 2020 MVP José Abreu. It’s winning time for the White Sox, and the division is open.

White Sox Projected Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Tim Anderson SS R 221 0.383 142 0.8
Luis Robert CF R 227 0.300 101 1.7
José Abreu 1B R 262 0.350 166 -1.0
Yoán Moncada 3B S 231 0.315 96 3.0
Yasmani Grandal C S 194 0.299 116 -2.4
Andrew Vaughn LF R 245 0.311 141
Adam Eaton RF L 176 0.260 75 -0.3
Yermín Mercedes DH R 387 0.328 153
Nick Madrigal 2B R 109 0.365 112 -4.7
2020 stats; Vaughn’s stats from 2019 MiLB (Rookie+Low-A+High-A), Mercedes’ stats from 2019 MiLB (Double-A+Triple-A)

The White Sox lineup is, plainly put, pretty nasty. Even without Eloy Jimenez, who will miss most or all of the year with a pectoral injury, this is a club that can both mash and chase down anything and everything. Yoán Moncada had a down year in 2020 but had a well-documented struggle with maintaining playing shape while suffering long-term symptoms from COVID-19, but appears to be in better shape this spring. The Sox may be short Tim Anderson for some or all of this series after their star SS strained his hamstring Sunday, thinning out the top of the order further. La Russa has shown a desire to put Adam Eaton at the top of the lineup for his old-school bunting and contact proclivities, which may further limit the offense, but the early breakout DH performance from 28 year old Yermín Mercedes has helped keep the offense afloat.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

Seattle Mariners v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

LHP Carlos Rodón

34 2/3 29.1% 10.8% 11.4% 43.0% 5.19 3.62
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 51.8% 91.4 2154 55 63 92
Changeup 10.8% 84.1 1714 91 163 136
Slider 37.4% 83.8 2452 93 120 107
2019 stats

Carlos Rodón has overcome both shoulder surgery and Tommy John surgery in his short career. He established himself as a strong, young option for the White Sox back in 2015 but his shoulder injury in 2017 and the subsequent elbow surgery have derailed a once promising career. He returned to the mound for a handful of innings late in 2020 but was non-tendered in the offseason. He re-signed with the White Sox anyway and won a spot in the rotation with a phenomenal spring. We wouldn’t normally put much stock in “best shape of your life” stories in spring training, but Rodón was noticeably healthier and his mechanics much more clean. The results speak for themselves: 13.2 innings with a 16:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just two runs allowed this spring.

RHP Lucas Giolito

72 1/3 33.7% 9.7% 13.3% 41.3% 3.48 3.19
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.6% 94.0 2349 119 141 99
Changeup 33.7% 80.9 1414 113 139 129
Slider 14.7% 84.9 2095 83 150 104
2020 stats

Lucas Giolito’s career arc is fascinating. A top prospect after being drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft by the Nationals, he made his major league debut for Washington in 2016 at 21. The following offseason, he was dealt to the White Sox in the huge Adam Eaton deal but really struggled with his new organization. After an ugly age-23 season in 2018 where he put up a 6.13 ERA and a 5.56 FIP in 32 starts, many wrote him off as a bust. But a completely redesigned arm path he debuted in 2019 gave him new life and he’s turned himself into one of the best starters in the American League in just a few years. His repertoire is simple but extremely effective; all three pitches are plus offerings. A riding fastball generates huge numbers of swings and misses at the top of the zone and a fantastic changeup keeps batters off balance if they try to sit on the heater. He can also mix in an excellent slider to get batters to chase out of the zone.

LHP Dallas Keuchel

63 1/3 16.3% 6.6% 4.7% 52.8% 1.99 3.08
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 2.3% 88.3 2218 41
Sinker 32.3% 87.2 2089 81 97 88
Cutter 30.9% 84.8 2206 101 82 102
Changeup 27.9% 78.6 1705 113 114 115
Slider 6.6% 75.8 2280 48
2020 stats; Keuchel’s four-seam and slider did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Dallas Keuchel pitches like he’s straight out of a bygone era of baseball. The fact that he thrives without a ton of velocity or strikeouts is a testament to the quality of his repertoire and guile. His ability to manage hard contact against him has always hinged on the quality of his sinker and changeup. Opposing batters pound those two pitches into the ground and simply can’t barrel them up. With home run rates skyrocketing through the league, he allowed just two home runs last season. He won’t be able to keep his home run rate that low in a full season, but he’s always been able to thrive on keeping the ball on the ground and out of the stands.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 4-0 1.000 -- W-W-W-W
Angels 3-1 0.750 1.0 W-L-W-W
Mariners 2-1 0.667 1.5 W-L-W
Rangers 1-2 0.333 2.5 L-L-W
Athletics 0-4 0.000 4.0 L-L-L-L

The Angels played an impressive four-game set against the White Sox over the weekend. Shohei Ohtani is receiving all the headlines — and he should, he’s among the league leaders in both barrels and pitches thrown over 100 mph — but the whole team showed a lot of pluck with three come-from-behind wins against a very good Chicago bullpen (mismanagement aside). They’ll host the Astros this week. Houston had their own impressive start to the season with a four-game sweep of the A’s, outscoring them 35-9. The A’s will have to try and get in the win column against the Dodgers this week, an unenviable task.