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Chicago White Sox Series Preview: May 21 to 23

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This should be fun. The Chicago White Sox, owners of the American League’s best record (26-16), come to Yankee Stadium for a three game series this weekend. Things have been pretty quiet in the news for the South Siders lately, eh? Let’s get to know the Yankees’ upcoming opponent.

Their story so far

In spite of a number of challenges, whether injuries or a completely out of touch manager, the White Sox are on a roll as they enter the Bronx. They’re 12-5 this month — all against AL Central rivals — and look like the easy division favorite at this point. Sure, Cleveland sits just 2.5 games back, but the Twins were supposed to be the biggest threat to the White Sox this season. Instead, Minnesota has the lowest winning percentage in the AL. What an awful season for them.

Speaking of the Twins, the White Sox just took two of three from them in Minnesota. And my oh my, was it an eventful series. Chicago demolished the Twins in the first game, 16-4, but that wasn’t the main the story in that one.

That Yermín Mercedes homer against position player Willians Astudillo on a 3-0 count became the crux of the series. You know why: unwritten rules, baby. Can’t swing 3-0 while leading in a blowout, you know. It’s too humiliating for the opponent. Enter manager Tony La Russa, who issued a bevy of quotes throwing his player under the bus:

  • “Big mistake…The fact that he’s a rookie, and excited, helps explain why he just was clueless. But now he’s got a clue.”
  • “There will be a consequence he has to endure here within our family…It’s a learning experience.”
  • “I heard he said something like, ‘I play my game.’ No, he doesn’t. He plays the game of Major League Baseball, respects the game, respects the opponents. And he’s got to respect the [take] sign.”

So, Twins reliever Tyler Duffey threw at Mercedes the next day.

That was pretty pathetic on the Twins’ side, but what’s worse: La Russa was totally fine with a pitch near one of the team’s better hitters’ kneecaps: “I wasn’t that suspicious. I’m suspicious when someone throws at someone’s head. I didn’t have a problem with how the Twins handled that.”

Cool. Love to see a manager who doesn’t have his players’ backs, even if he doesn’t agree with something they did on the field. In any case, unsurprisingly, the team is basically revolting against the manager publicly:

It was only a matter of time until La Russa did something to piss off his players. Who could have seen it coming from a manager who hasn’t been in a clubhouse in a decade?

La Russa simply has no business being at the helm of this team, let alone any team in the league. But kudos to the White Sox players for performing at a high level in spite of their skipper.

Injury Report

PlayerPositionInjuryRoster StatusEstimated Return
Adam EngelOFStrained hamstring10-day ILLate May
Eloy JiménezOFTorn pectoral60-day ILSeptember
Luis RobertOFTorn hip flexor10-day ILAugust
Jimmy CorderoRHPTommy John Surgery 60-day IL2022
Jace FryLHPMicrodiscectomy (back)60-day ILJune

Spotlight: Yermín Mercedes

Clearly, it’s been an eventful week for Mercedes. But that shouldn’t take away from how pivotal the 28 year-old rookie has been for the ChiSox. He’s been a huge shot in the arm for a team without two of its best hitters in Jiménez and Robert.

Mercedes enters Yankee Stadium with an outstanding .358/.405/.555 (170 wRC+) batting line in 148 plate appearances. He hits for pretty good power (6 homers, .197 ISO) and doesn’t strike out too often (16.9 percent). Not bad for the portly catcher turned designated hitter (who’s only played the field once this season — first base).

This opportunity has been a decade in the making for Mercedes. He received one at-bat last season, but not until this year has he had a legitimate chance. Mercedes started out in Washington’s organization in 2011 but was released a couple years later. He then signed with Baltimore, but eventually landed in Chicago via the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. He’s done nothing but hit in the minors, including a terrific .310/.386/.647 (150 wRC+) with 17 homers in 220 Triple-A plate appearances in 2019. Now, he’s showing what he can do at a time the White Sox have needed run production the most.

The underlying numbers point to a bit of a step back forthcoming, but that also doesn’t mean he’s wholly undeserving of his performance. PECOTA projected a 115 DRC+ entering this season, and to date, he has a 127 DRC+. Mercedes’ wOBA is well above his xwOBA (.413 vs. .360), but the latter certainly isn’t bad.

The righty slugger’s biggest issue is his propensity to chase bad pitches. His chase rate is in the first percentile of MLB, and since he makes a lot of contact (whiff rate in the 79th percentile), his average exit velocity and hard hit rates aren’t very good (27th and 19th percentiles, respectively). It’s tough to make loud contact against pitches out of the zone. However, that doesn’t mean Mercedes doesn’t crush the ball. He certainly can. He’s maxed out his exit velocity at 113.3 MPH, which is in the 91st percentile. So it’s clearly more of a pitch selection issue than a bunch of success in spite of weak contact.

I fully expect the Yankees to force Mercedes to lay off bad pitches this weekend. Now, it may not always be easy to pitch around Mercedes considering the hitters he typically hits between. But so far, that looks like the best gameplan to get him out.

Projected Lineup

Below is Roster Resource‘s projected lineup for the White Sox, along with stats to date in parentheses:

  1. Tim Anderson, SS (.307/.340/.453, 123 wRC+) – 7-for-9 in SB attempts
  2. Adam Eaton, RF (.213/.314/.377, 99 wRC+) – not sure why he hits second…oh wait, TLR.
  3. Yoán Moncada, 3B (.284/.407/.411, 139 wRC+) – good line, but power has declined since 2019’s .233 ISO
  4. José Abreu, 1B (.255/.346/.482, 131 wRC+) – last year’s AL MVP is expected to return from ankle inflammation for this series
  5. Yermín Mercedes, DH (.358/.405/.555, 170 wRC+) – subject of series spotlight
  6. Yasmani Grandal, C (.139/.397/.354, 127 wRC+) – not a misprint, he has 11 hits and 35 walks!
  7. Andrew Vaughn, LF (.225/.325/.363, 98 wRC+) – slow start for ROY candidate
  8. Leury García, CF (.243/.279/.313, 67 wRC+) – they miss Robert, badly
  9. Nick Madrigal, 2B (.276/.319/.373, 97 wRC+) – extreme contact hitter: 5.6 percent strikeout rate

Bench:

  • Zack Collins, C (.196/.318/.375, 101 wRC+) – nominally a catcher, bat-first type who was team’s 1st-rounder in 2016
  • Jake Lamb, 1B/3B/LF (.188/.350/.406, 120 wRC+) – signed at end of spring training after not making Atlanta’s roster
  • Danny Mendick, UTIL (.243/.378/.405, 129 wRC+) – been a pretty good utility player for a few years now
  • Billy Hamilton, OF (.214/.244/.333, 58 wRC+) – 4-for-4 in SB attempts

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 7:05 pm ET:

LHP Carlos Rodón

The southpaw threw a no-hitter in his second start of the season and has been terrific overall (1.47 ERA and 2.40 FIP). Had his first lackluster start last time out (5.2 IP, 4 R vs. KC), but he’s been quite the story since the White Sox non-tendered him this winter before re-signing him. (Stats vs. Yankees)

LHP Jordan Montgomery

Which version of Monty will we see tonight? He’s tossed some good games this season, but he can mix in a clunker from time-to-time. He gave up five runs in three innings to the lowly Orioles last Sunday. This will be a far tougher matchup than Baltimore, obviously. (Stats vs. White Sox)

Rodón.

Tomorrow, 1:05 pm ET:

RHP Dylan Cease

Control is an issue (11.7 percent BB-rate), but Cease has topline stuff. He strikes out plenty (29.2 percent K-rate) and limits the long ball (0.66 HR/9). If he could find a smidgeon of better location, he could be a beast. No Yankee has seen him except Rougned Odor. (Stats vs. Yank-err, Odor)

RHP Gerrit Cole

Pretty amazing that Cole struggled against the Rangers after seeing Corey Kluber and Domingo Germán dominate. The righty had his first not so good start of the year, allowing five runs in five frames. He can bring his ERA back below 2 with a good start tomorrow (it’s at 2.03 now). (Stats vs. White Sox)

Cease.

Sunday, 1:05 pm ET:

LHP Dallas Keuchel

Renown Yankee killer Keuchel was great for Chicago last season (1.99 ERA, albeit a 4.24 FIP), but has regressed a bit in 2021 (4.44 ERA, 5.80 FIP). Still, he gets a ton of grounders (58.2 percent) and pitches deep into games. (Stats vs. Yankees)

RHP Jameson Taillon

This White Sox lineup will be Taillon’s biggest challenge in what’s been a difficult season thus far. The righty owns a 5.73 ERA and 4.67 FIP in 37.2 innings entering this one. He’s also allowed 2.15 homers per nine. (Stats vs. White Sox)

Keuchel.

Bullpen status

The White Sox were off yesterday, so the ‘pen is pretty fresh:

PitcherThursdayWednesdayTuesdayMonday
Liam Hendriks911
Aaron Bummer (L)26
Codi Heuer
Garrett Crochet (L)23
Matt Foster
José Ruiz17
Michael Kopech14
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5 Comments

  1. Steven Tydings

    Great work, Derek!

  2. Gerreddardit Cole

    Must win series against our biggest WS threat, Bobby, but I doubt we do much. Hicks is now out for the year and Stanton is soon to follow. Judge can’t even play the OF anymore. Clint has a broken neck. Florial should be up here to see what we have in him. I saw Cash is targeting Delino Deshields Jr. That’s a nothing burger. The Hicks signing is going to ba an albatross around our necks the way Ellsbury was all those years. We won’t beat Rondon tonight and Tallion will get killed I’m his start. Where’s Deivi? Only chance at salvaging one game is Cole pitching a perfect game. Then the great young Jays, horrible Tigers, red hot Rays and the first place Sox after this so I wouldn’t be surprised if tonight was the beginning of the end.

  3. dasit

    larussa is the worst kind of old-school relic. if you encourage one of your own players to get throw at, you deserve to lose the clubhouse

  4. MikeD

    Rodon was on my list of pitchers I wanted the Yankees to target this offseason. He was a victim of high expectations early on in Chicago, although he was overall a tick above league-average starter. Then TJS, which wiped out two seasons. Chicago cut him loose but there was some evidence health wise he was aligned for a solid year with TJS in the rear-view mirror. He was available for a modest salary, although one that seemingly would still be too much for the luxury-tax focused 2021 Yankees.

    • Steel

      A large part of his succcess this season is due to the fact that he added over 2 mph on his fastball which has allowed him to actually take that next step in becoming a dominant pitcher.

      He was never really anything more than a 4/5 before this velocity tick (though they always had high expectations for him) which is why he was non-tendered to begin with; nobody could have predicted such a huge uptick in velocity, seeing as he was never anywhere close to this even before all the injuries.

      That being said, I liked the idea of kicking the tires on him during the off-season considering the rotation wasn’t yet set in stone. Alas, he dominated the Yankees today but they still got a hugeeee W.

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