Indians Prepare to Face White Sox for the First Time in 2014
One of Frank Sinatra’s most popular and stunningly bland songs is “My Kind of Town”, where he sings the praises of the Second City, while somehow glossing over the rough and tumble awesomeness that makes it such a great place. For the Cleveland Indians in 2013, that had to be their personal anthem, because they beat the tar out of the Chicago White Sox at every turn. The Tribe was 17-2 against Chicago, outscoring them 117-58. Both those losses came in April too, so to say the Indians creamed the Sox all summer is like saying Mel Gibson has a small problem with the British. Maybe the magic Jason Kipnis tapped in to that made him so amazing at the Cell, who knows, and one has to wonder if a repeat performance is in order this season.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, the 2014 Chicago White Sox experienced an incredible makeover from a year ago. Last year they were bad defensively, bad offensively and their pitching was pretty much Sale, Quintana and pray for rain. Dylan Axelrod made a bunch of starts for some reason or another (“There’s no one else” is a good reason, I guess), Jake Peavy got traded in season and Hector Santiago got shipped away in the off-season, and though John Danks is still around he was somewhat terrible last year and shoulder issues is bad news for a pitcher. He looked decent his last time out, but that’s for later.
There’s new faces in the lineup as well. Avisail Garcia came over from Detroit in the Peavy deal and he’s pretty much been handed the right field job for the forseeable future. The “Baby Miggy” nickname might be a bit much, kind of tough to live up to that terror, but the guy has a fine bat with secret power and good speed. He also may or may not wear nylons instead of socks. He knocked a .775 OPS in 42 games last year and it’s jumped thirty points to start the year. And he’s still only 23. The boy could be very good.
Joining Garcia in the outfield this year is Adam Eaton, the result of the Santiago trade. Eaton’s a speed demon in center, and his defensive ability means Alejandro De Aza can move to left, so along with Garcia in right, it’s a much improved outfield. Eaton was a beast in the minors, a career minors .450 OBP along with flashing some nice power (.502 SLG in 129 triple-A games alone) speak to the talent that had him rated as the Diamondbacks’ number four prospect after 2012. He hurt his elbow in the spring of 2013 so he didn’t appear in the majors until July, but broke camp with the Sox in March, firmly ensconced in center. He never hit a ton of homers, only 26 throughout his minors career, but if he can hit it in the gap and leg out doubles and does anything similar to his walk rates in the minors, he could terrorize the Indians for years.
The biggest addition to the White Sox this offseason is Jose Abreu, another Cuban defector famous for tremendous power. A couple of years ago he slugged .822 in the Cuban League, then .986 the year after. Most players only dream of an OPS that high, but this guy makes bombs. There’s a Cuban Missile Crisis joke in there, if you’d like to look. Who knows how legit any of this island numbers are, the teams down there vary so wildly in quality you can never know, but if early indications say anything, he could be a tremendous get for the Sox. Personally I’ve become rather enraptured by the guy, watching every at-bat, because amazing unknowns like this don’t come around often. He’s got great plate coverage, I’ve yet to find a hole in his swing, he’s patient, and has a short stroke. I don’t like what I see at all.
I liked Kenny Williams. He was a good GM for the Indians, did a lot of good for the team in getting the White Sox out of the way. This Rick Hahn character is rebuilding the farm system with all this moving of somewhat valuable but pointless vets, and he somehow wooed Abreu, a guy who grew up in a Communist tainted paradise, to the South Side of Chicago. It doesn’t get much different than that. If he keeps on this way, with the love owner Jerry Reinsdorf has for his team and that money factory on Madison bolstering his pocket-book, they could become very dangerous as the Tigers start to flag in the next couple years. The White Sox are an intriguing team, they remind me a bit of the Indians of a year ago where if a few things break right, they could contend with anyone. It’s early in the season though, about time for the Indians to knock them the hell over.
Almost forgot, can’t get out of here without mentioning two guys – Alejandro De Aza and Paul Konerko. Konerko has effectively taken the Giambi role for Chicago, so expect him to come out at some point and donk a big one for the Sox in a critical moment. Paulie has one hit and three K’s in six plate appearances, so he’s got those Giambi numbers. Just another reason they remind me of the Indians last year. As for De Aza, just remember when he goes about 11-for-17 with two homers, that’s what he does to the Indians. For real, he slashes at .324/.415/.526 with six homers in his career against Cleveland. It’s insane. Maybe Paulie gave him some magic Indian destroying dust that he’s been using all these years. How De Aza does it is a mystery, but he takes great pleasure in it and I can only imagine how going 17-2 to the Tribe last year cut him deeply. Both these guys just wreck Cleveland, so expect something from them.
UPDATE: Avisail Garcia is apparently out for the year with a torn labrum, so ignore that part of the preview. This likely means Dayan Viciedo will be in left with De Aza in right. This plays into the Indians’ hand, because Tank, as Hawk Harrelson calls him, has regressed every year since his breaking into the league. I remember when he was a terror, a free swinging homer happy beast, until people realized he can’t hit anything besides a fastball. In his two full seasons with the Sox he has 52 walks to 218 strikeouts. Him and Dunn in the same lineup can really make a breeze befitting the city they play in. His defense is likewise suspect at best, bewildering at worst. It’s sad to hear that about Garcia since he has the chance to be a dazzling player, but if we’re being selfish, the Indians are much better off.