Things are finally drying up at Progressive Field, but now that the storm has lifted the Indians have some new opponents for the weekend: the Chicago White Sox. We’ll become intimately familiar with the Pale Hose in good time, but this is our first look at the South Siders this season. So I talked to Southside Showdown Editor James Fegan about the White Sox’ 2013 outlook, Chicago’s offseason moves, and what we Tribe fans can expect from Brett Myers going forward.
You can read my answers to James’ questions on South Side Showdown.
Wahoo’s on First: Most fans (at least in Cleveland) seem to see the White Sox as the third-best team in the AL Central. Where do you see them landing in the final standings?
James Fegan: White Sox fans view the second-place spot as some sort of weird birthright, in the sense that they are singularly focused on Detroit. If the Sox play up and over their abilities, everyone thinks they can challenge the Tigers, if they don’t, then whatever, it’s irrelevant. I don’t think a scenario where Cleveland or Kansas City is keeping the Sox out of the playoffs has occurred to anyone. I agree with that somewhat, because I see both Cleveland and Chicago in the same 80-85 win territory.
The White Sox offense and the Indians rotation are similar—outsiders will think “Oh what a graveyard!” and fans will see the risk but think there’s a lot of room for growth or turnarounds. Whoever’s fan base is actually right and not just sniffing the hometown vapors, has a chance at meaningful baseball
Wahoo’s on First: The White Sox lost a lot of familiar faces this winter and their biggest free agent signing was Jeff Keppinger. Should Chicago have done more to upgrade in the offseason?
James Fegan: Yes, in the sense that with their stadium deal they really are nowhere near poverty and could always do something like sign some free agent starters rather than leaving the back of the rotation up to Jose Quintana & Co., or flip Gavin Floyd for whatever meager return they kept turning up their noses at and go out spend the moon on Zach Greinke. The budgets of major league baseball teams are artificial and self-ascribed.
But in the real world, a full-tilt, fan-murdering rebuild is probably the pragmatic response to the last, best gasp of a bunch of 30-somethings only churning out 85 wins. Deal away Alex Rios and Adam Dunn while you still can, grind Paul Konerko into sausage meat and sell him while all the fans watch. Maybe not that severe, but you get my point. This group doesn’t have upper-level potential, so why maintain status quo?
In the White Sox world, where it’s perennially 2006, Jeff Keppinger is a reasonable stopgap at third—a spot where a stopgap was needed because Jeeeeeepers last year that position had a .601 OPS—who can be shifted around when a better solution emerges. I don’t understand why Kevin Youkilis was unreasonable seeing as he didn’t even land a multi-year deal, but hey look, Gordon Beckham went and broke his hamate bone and Keppinger has shifted to second base. Now the move looks even smarter
Wahoo’s on First: At the SABR Analytics Conference last month, Chicago GM Rick Hahn said the team’s public image as behind the curve in sabermetric thinking is merely a facade, albeit one that he tries to encourage. What is your impression of the front office’s philosophy in practice?
James Fegan: Hahn and Director of Baseball Operations Dan Fabian have been with the organization for a long time and been providing that saber-friendly voice, so that could be very accurate. But the removal of Ozzie Guillen—who was notoriously hostile to advanced stats—along with Kenny Williams stepping to the side definitely gives the new wave more power. Hahn admitted he reads South Side Sox a little while back, so I don’t know who he thinks he’s still fooling anymore. The Sox definitely have their guys that they grow confident in from a scouting standpoint even if their numbers don’t follow, but they’re a mixture of old school scouting and statistical analysis, just like everyone else.
Wahoo’s on First: Can you offer Indians fans any comforting words about Brett Myers?
James Fegan: Well, he doesn’t seem to beat his wife anymore. That’s important. He was out of gas the last two weeks in Chicago but was otherwise a solid reliever for the Sox. I wasn’t that opposed to bringing him back to eat innings at the back end of the rotation, but with his steadily falling strikeout rate, his departure from the world of effective pitchers isn’t the most inexplicable occurrence. Still, I imagine that fleshing out his arsenal after two years in the bullpen isn’t a seamless process.
Wahoo’s on First: Who’s pitching for the White Sox this weekend and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
James Fegan: Jose Quintana was held back a day just to face all of Cleveland’s lefties. What’s funny is that his slider isn’t necessarily consistent enough for him to dominate lefties and he doesn’t have a much a changeup. On the right day he’s a really quite the handsome pinata. But he does have a cutter and relies on fastball command that was dynamite for stretches of 2012. He jams righties inside and avoids walks when he’s rolling. Last season was good enough that scouts buy him as a back-end starter now, but he’s got to develop some more secondary stuff if he’s going to stick.
Chris Sale is great and all, and seems to be doing dialing his velocity back and forth this year from 90-95 to keep himself fresh throughout the game. He’ll need to keep that up, given the way he faded down the stretch in 2012. Beyond his nutso mechanics and constant health concerns, he can be a shade homer prone, but this is the ace of the staff.
Jake Peavy is as fun to watch as anyone for me. He works in the low-90’s with his fastball and just tinkers with its movement and placement like no one else. He’ll sink it, cut it, snap it over the glove side corner, you name it. He can’t overwhelm top lineups anymore, but he’s still a gentleman’s No. 2
Wahoo’s on First: What’s your prediction for the series?
James Fegan: Since the Sox have their top two starters going (and the rotation feels a bit shaky after that), I either have to predict they take two of three or give up on the season. That’s how it works, right?