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Know your enemy: Chicago White Sox

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The Sox could be better than you think this year.

Camelback Ranch, spring training home of the White Sox
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The expectation of some Cubs fans is that when any of us talks about or writes about the White Sox, we’re supposed to put all kinds of hatred and snark into what we say about the Cubs’ crosstown rivals.

I’m just not one of those people. I think it’s good that Chicago has two MLB teams. If they win, it’s good for the city — of course, except when they’re playing the Cubs.

And I’m here to tell you that the Sox appear to be doing a rebuild in similar fashion to what Theo & Co. did for the Cubs. Of course, you know about the deal that brought Jose Quintana to the Cubs and sent Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease (and two others) back to the Sox.

Eloy looks like the real deal, though he probably won’t be in the major leagues until this September at the earliest. And even if he becomes a great player, the Cubs still get 3x years of Quintana from that deal — well worth it in my view.

This year’s White Sox ought to be improved from last year’s 95-loss version. Yoan Moncada, who got off to a very slow start when brought to the major leagues, ended his 2017 season hitting .305/.374/.500 over his last 20 games (25-for-82 with four home runs). That’s a hint of what the Sox expect from him, and he won’t turn 23 until May.

Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia lead this offense; the latter had a breakout season in 2017 in which he made the All-Star team. Garcia turns 27 this year and could have another big offensive year. Abreu is 31 and has been a consistent hitter since he reached the majors from Cuba in 2014, and also appears to be a quiet team leader.

One of the young Sox I expect to break out is Nicky Delmonico, who hit .262/.373/.482 with nine home runs in 141 at-bats in a late-season trial last year. If he can continue to hit like that, or improve, the Sox offense should follow.

The Sox rotation still awaits Michael Kopech, who throws 100 miles per hour; he’ll start the year at Triple-A, most likely, but could be added to the rotation later this year and is expected to have an immediate impact when he does make the big leagues.

After this year the Sox will be out from under James Shields’ contract. Shields has been a disaster since coming to the Sox; he has a 5.99 ERA for them in 43 starts over the last year and a half. Occasionally, he’ll go through a stretch of a handful of starts where he looks decent and you think he’s going to recover his “Big Game James” ability, and then he throws a stinker like this one.

And the Cubs should thank the White Sox for taking Carlos Rodon with the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, because the Cubs had the next pick and rumor had it that if Rodon had been on the board when the Cubs picked, they would have taken him. Instead the Cubs chose Kyle Schwarber, and you know what he’s accomplished, while Rodon simply can’t stay healthy. He’ll start this year on the DL.

The Sox mixed-and-matched at closer last year after shipping David Robertson back to the Yankees, but this year they’ll have Joakim Soria, former Royals closer, to wrap up the ninth inning when they have the lead. Soria turns 34 this year, but is a reasonable stopgap until the Sox return to contention.

Which they could do in 2019. I’ve been thinking that the Sox would be a reasonable destination for Jake Arrieta, if they choose to spend the money. Only Shields has an expensive deal with the Sox and that one’s up at the end of this year (and some of his money is being paid by the Padres). Per this Cot’s spreadsheet the Sox have only $70 million in contract obligations for 2018; signing Arrieta could put them in marginal wild-card contention this year.

Lastly, I’m going to leave this prediction right here. The White Sox should be in position to contend for a wild-card spot in 2019. As such, I think that after this year they’re going to let Rick Renteria go and sign Joe Girardi to manage them.

Could happen, right?

The Sox lead the all-time series with the Cubs 58 wins to 54, though the Cubs have been better in recent years: 13-9 since 2013.

The White Sox will visit Wrigley Field May 11-12-13 and the Cubs travel to the South Side September 21-22-23. That September series ought to be real interesting, especially if the Sox are mathematically eliminated by then and the Cubs are closing in on a division title.

This concludes the “Know Your Enemy” series for the 2018 season. Opening Day is in less than three weeks!