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On The Horizon: Cubs vs. White Sox series preview

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It’s weird, but interesting, to have this interleague series happen in the middle of a pennant race.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The White Sox have had a rough year, but that was expected as they are in the middle of a rebuild. Brett Ballantini, managing editor of our SB Nation White Sox site South Side Sox, gives us an update on what’s happened with the Sox since we last saw them in May.

Hey, north side rivals. If I squint real hard, I can sort of see you up there, trying to put another division title away. Me? I’m writing you from somewhere, I dunno, it doesn’t seem like Sox Park. There are a lot of trees, it’s pretty damp … Kannapolis, maybe?

Appropriate, because for much of this year, our Chicago White Sox have resembled a Single-A team. I won’t share the pitiable list of miscues that have cast the avoidance of a fourth 100-loss season in franchise history into doubt; just take my word for it.

When we last were in touch, I shared a tale of unwanted advances from a neighboring, overaggressive tree-trimming crew as a sort of metaphor for the bitch-slap the 2018 season had been so far on the South Side. But, thankfully, I can report no further unsolicited massacring of my landscape; the gain of my grounds is a loss of an easy hook in writing you again, now.

Alas, we suffered through a ballgame on Wednesday that encapsulates how things have gone for us in the interim, written by delightful SSS writer Lurker Laura, and for schadenfreude’s sake, or if you just want to read a damn good recap written on the fly after local boy and general Chicago menace Jason Kipnis sent an Ian Hamilton changeup to Lake Erie, it comes with my highest recommendation: That loss would have been heartbreaking if this season meant anything.

But, just as Laura was forced to write more than a mere cookie-fortune version of the painful end to that game, it’s only fair that as long as I have your attention, I clue you in on a few more details about the ballclub you’re facing this weekend.

The White Sox offense is horrible, just undeniably awful. Approximately four players are having true above-replacement years, and if you can guess who they are, I have a job waiting for you at South Side Sox, because you know my team better than I do.

José Abreu is having a typical José Abreu season, aside from the fact that he keeps getting tripped up by impossible-sounding injuries like “testicular torsion” and “ingrown hair leg infection.” Matt Davidson started the year with a three-homer bang-bang-bang in Kansas City, and has reverted back to his well-coiffed mediocrity since; his most notable achievement of late is a game-by-game hacking away of his playoff beard, with Brawny trimmed to Konerko goatee to ill-executed Fu Manchu, with a logical progression to upper-lip peach fuzz by the time your boys wheel into Sox Park. Omar Narváez is very likely our Most Improved Player this season, possibly even our Best Hitter, and the fact that right now you are distracted from reading these words with the thought the hell is an Omar Narváez? tells you all you need to know about the 2018 Chicago White Sox.

And finally, there is Daniel Palka, our answer to Kyle Schwarber, and if I knew anything about the world of professional wrestling, I’d come up with a clever WWE metaphor here. But Palka has managed to stitch together a phenomenal rookie campaign as pure slugger and clutch player (his six ninth-inning HRs still lead all of baseball, and you can trust me on that, because boy howdy we don’t have many trivia triumphs to hang our ballcaps on these days). Palka has managed to inspire rallying cries of dubious vintage (Palka Polka, PALKSMASH, et al.) and has spun five months in the bigs and 26 homers into becoming the first true South Side blue collar folk hero since, dunno, Ron Kittle?

Now, none of those four players can field the ball. None can run. Rinse and repeat re: all you need to know about the 2018 Chicago White Sox.

Tim Anderson has had a breakout year for the club, bringing baserunning and defensive value to the field and not altogether throwing away at-bats in the process. He’s fun, he’s got fire and spunk, he gets under the skin of Fun Police opponents like Justin Verlander and Salvador Perez. You may want to sit down, but he has supplanted Addison Russell as the best shortstop in town. (Yeah, yeah, Javy Baez, I’ve been writing on the White Sox for eight months, throw me a bone.)

Pitching? Well, Friday’s starter, Reynaldo López, has really heated up over the past month, and while his “peripherals” may be dismal, he’s a helluva lotta fun to watch. Saturday’s hurler, Lucas Giolito, López’s partner in growing pains, has similarly turned a corner over recent weeks. Sunday’s prime-time player, Carlos Rodón, came back from shoulder surgery at midseason and strung together about six to eight weeks of bonafide ace work, but may be a little gassed in the home stretch. And then, there’s James Shields, who you won’t see, but if any of the three above mixes in an Eephus or starts loudly grunting on every delivery, well, that’s the leadership and mentoring of Juego G right there, bub.

Most of the effective pieces of the White Sox bullpen have been dealt for future pieces, as the perpetual hands of three-card monte that early- and mid-stage rebuilding demand. Rookie southpaw Jace Fry is almost certainly the Most Valuable Pitcher on the team. Seriously. Again, it’s WSB 2018, rinse and repeat.

What of the coming black wave that will overwhelm the AL Central for years, decades to come? Uh …

Michael Kopech, service time be damned, was recalled in July, had three of four starts interrupted or truncated by rain, and by start number four had succumbed to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. The good news? Kopech was every bit as advertised in his first three mini-starts: 11 innings, one earned run. The bad news? He won’t pitch again until 2020.

Eloy Jiménez, who I think some of you may be familiar with, has become our Kris Bryant, mostly for all of the wrong reasons. The White Sox elected to suppress him in the minors all season in a barely-obfuscated Hail Mary intended to exercise an additional year of control. Without getting into a service time debate that could grind BCB to a halt (sleeper agent, I am not … as far as you know), it’s utter b.s., and gutting as a fan. Period. I will not rant against White Sox management here, but the suite class didn’t treat Eloy fairly. So, for whatever it’s worth, Kris has a picketing partner come 2022.

So, well, I’d say the White Sox are dangerous, because this odd, late-season crosstown series is our “World Series.” Whatever. I mean, should Ricky Renteria want to stick it to the team that so fatuously disposed of him a few years back, for that horn-rimmed huckster Joe Maddon? Prolly. Will his revenge most likely take the shape of having some lukewarm Beggars Pizza delivered pregame to the visitor’s clubhouse, along with some flat sodas and punchless energy drinks? Pretty much.

BCB, here’s hoping these games are competitive next year. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but maybe we’ll be talking again then, and I can come up with new, improved, and wildly-inappropriate ways to describe the team I cover.

Fun fact

Since the beginning of 2017 the Cubs are 5-2 against the White Sox and have outscored them 44-22.

Pitching matchups

Friday: Jose Quintana, LHP (13-10, 3.95 ERA, 1.324 WHIP, 4.50 FIP) vs. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP (6-9, 4.05 ERA, 1.287 WHIP, 4.87 FIP)

Saturday: Jon Lester, LHP (16-6, 3.43 ERA, 1.307 WHIP, 4.40 FIP) vs. Lucas Giolito, RHP (10-11, 5.77 ERA, 1.433 WHIP, 5.55 FIP)

Sunday: Kyle Hendricks, RHP (12-11, 3.58 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, 3.85 FIP) vs. Carlos Rodon, LHP (6-6, 3.30 ERA, 1.134 WHIP, 4.84 FIP)

Times & TV channels

Friday: 3:10 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago market), WGN (Sox announcers)

Saturday: 6:10 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago market), WGN (Sox announcers)

Sunday: 1:10 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago, MLB Network (outside Chicago market), NBC Sports Chicago (Sox announcers)

NOTE: MLB Network’s coverage generally picks up the home team broadcast. Thus if you watch via MLBN, you are likely to hear the Sox announcers. This weekend, that will include Hawk Harrelson, who will be broadcasting his final three games.

Prediction

The Cubs switched around their rotation for this series. Quintana goes on normal rest, while Lester is given an extra day and will be pitching with six days’ rest. I like these pitching matchups; while the White Sox shouldn’t be viewed as a pushover, they have lost 10 of their last 14, with only one win in that stretch (over Cleveland on Thursday) coming against a team other than the awful Orioles and Royals.

Predicting sweeps is dangerous territory, so I’ll say two of three.

Up next

The Cubs return to Wrigley Field for the final homestand of the 2018 season. It starts with a four-game series against the Pirates beginning Monday evening.

Poll

How many games will the Cubs win against the White Sox?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    3
    (129 votes)
  • 46%
    2
    (149 votes)
  • 7%
    1
    (24 votes)
  • 5%
    0
    (18 votes)
320 votes total Vote Now