ALDS Preview: White Sox-Rays
Each year the White Sox graciously host a University of Chicago alumni event, where Christina Kahrl and I speak to 150 or more nerds in the U.S. Cellular Conference & Learning Center. The group gets tickets to the game too -- which usually means a contest against the Orioles or the Royals, or perhaps a thrilling interleague tilt against the Pirates; clubs that don't motivate many Chicagoans to give up an afternoon from their short summers to come out to the ballpark.
This year's matchup, booked months in advance, was against the Rays, presumably about as irrelevant as it gets. But, of course, it turned out to be one of the best baseball games of the year, not just because of the blown interference call that allowed
The White Sox scored 811 runs to the Rays' 774, a small difference essentially mitigated by the teams' respective home ballparks. That is not to suggest, however, that these teams are equally well-equipped for the playoffs. The White Sox scored those 811 runs while having
So indeed, the difference in offensive firepower is rather stark. Apart from the reliable
The Rays, by contrast, have perhaps only one easy out in their lineup, in the form of
Granted, they didn't have great years -- and most of
The Rays, meanwhile, have at least four quality bats off the bench, and an abundance of positional flexibility, having made the (smart) decision to carry 10 pitchers rather than 11. Expect
The pitchers are listed here in the order in which they're expected to appear in Games 1 through 4, but there is an important asterisk: In Game 5, the Game 2 starters will be able to pitch on normal rest. Chicago has already hinted that Buehrle would start a Game 5, allowing the Sox to deploy three left-handed starters in five games, exploiting the Rays on by far their weaker side of the plate. And one would probably expect Maddon to do the same with
The White Sox' rotation is somewhat under-appreciated. Danks won the biggest game of his life on Tuesday and is the sort of player who could become a household name in the postseason.
Still, the Rays have the trump card in Kazmir, who is by some margin the best pitcher on either roster. Kazmir's flaw is that he can be wild, but the White Sox have a tendency to chase pitches, so he's not a good matchup for them. Indeed, patience will be the key against Kazmir, as he can rack up high pitch counts and does not throw particularly deep into games; that is, in fact, why the Rays have slotted him second -- so that they can churn through their bullpen on Friday if needed, in advance of Saturday's off day. If I'm
One could gripe about the inclusion of
The White Sox' defense checked in at 18 runs below average on the year. A lot of that was from Ramirez, who registered a -16 but whose defense I actually like a lot personally, even if it's a bit unorthodox and sandlot-ish at times. The left side of the infield ought to be quite good with Cabrera and Uribe, who is overqualified for third base (if not quite as crisp there as Crede). There is a major liability, however, in center field, a position that Griffey shouldn't have been playing five years ago, and certainly shouldn't be playing now at age 38. With Anderson on the roster, Guillen should be considering making a defensive substitution as early as the sixth inning should the White Sox hold the lead.
The Rays, meanwhile, made what may have been the greatest year-over-year defensive turnaround in major league history, going from an unfathomably bad -117
Guillen does not over-manage, as you might have been tempted to infer from his playing career, and is particularly adept (with an assist from
With the White Sox missing Quentin and Crede, the Rays are simply the better baseball club. Their principal vulnerability is their comparative weakness against left-handed pitching, but they hedge against that well by having Kazmir lined up to duel Buehrle. I expect the Sox to make a series of it -- especially if they can steal Game 1, which would seem to present the most favorable matchup for the Rays on paper (home game against a righty). But the percentage play is