AL CentralAnalysis

White Sox ALDS Preview – Houston Astros

Although the White Sox didn’t have the nail-biting and dramatic divisional chase like some teams last week, they definitely had a rollercoaster of a season. Starting with the highly-critiqued hiring of Hall of Famer, Tony La Russa, signing of closer Liam Hendriks, injuries to Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal, Yasmani Grandal, and Adam Engel (among many others), and trading for Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera, and Cesar Hernandez at the deadline, this team still managed a 93-69 record, which was good enough for an AL Central division championship. The team’s first division championship in 13 years leads them to a first-round matchup with the Houston Astros. The Astros are coming off of their 4th* AL West championship in 5 years, with a record of 95-67 in 2021.

Team Rankings
Looking at the rosters, both teams are surrounded by talent. One of the best rebuild cores of the last decade, compared to possibly one of the best rebuild cores of the next decade. A team that has plenty of experience in the postseason, and a team that has hardly any. Looking at MLB rankings, these teams look to be evenly matched:

White Sox Rankings
wRC+: 110 (5th)
DRS: -39 (26th)
BsR: -0.9 (17th)
Starter ERA: 3.57 (4th)
Reliever ERA: 3.97 (12th)
fWAR: 25.3 (6th)

Astros Rankings
wRC+: 117 (1st)
DRS: 78 (2nd)
BsR: -6.2 (23rd)
Starter ERA: 3.60 (5th)
Reliever ERA: 4.06 (15th)
fWAR: 33.9 (1st)

The White Sox are a team that, coming into 2021, was supposed to have an offense that was young but dangerous, a solid 1-2 punch in the rotation, and the best bullpen in baseball. Early in the season, the offense was almost forced to take a small-ball approach for part of the season due to injuries to power hitters Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. When those players started to return to the lineup, the power numbers started to rocket. The Astros have a top offense in all of baseball, and they have been for nearly half of a decade.

The White Sox starting rotation was going to be one of the biggest questions going into the 2021 season but turned out to be one of their biggest strengths. Lucas Giolito continued to be the ace of the staff, building off of his strong 2019 and 2020 seasons. Lance Lynn was acquired in the off-season and became a fan favorite and a Cy Young candidate. Carlos Rodon is the comeback story for this team, as he finished his first full season in years, and will also be in the Cy Young conversation in the coming months. Dylan Cease was able to put it together in the first full season of his young career.

The bullpen seemed to struggle for most of the season, despite being expected to be among the best in MLB. Over the course of the season, it slowly showed its full potential, with players like Aaron Bummer, Liam Hendriks, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, and newly acquired Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel. If the bullpen is able to give consistent outings, this team has the tools to make a deep run.

In terms of fielding (DRS), the Astros are heavily favored, having the 2nd best in baseball. Both teams have a top-five offense, with the Astros edging out the Sox, but the White Sox edge out the Astros in both starting and relief pitching. A factor for Houston is getting Zack Greinke back within the past week, although it doesn’t appear he’ll be used in the rotation, but rather coming out of the bullpen. Despite having the 12th best ERA as a bullpen, the White Sox are playing better than the 3.97 ERA they had in the regular season, and could truly be a difference-maker throughout October.

Projected White Sox Lineup
1. Tim Anderson – SS
2. Luis Robert – CF
3. Jose Abreu – 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal – C
5. Eloy Jimenez – LF
6. Yoan Moncada – 3B
7. Gavin Sheets (vs RHP)/Andrew Vaughn (vs LHP) – DH
8. Adam Engel – RF
9. Leury Garcia/Cesar Hernandez – 2B

Projected White Sox Rotation
1. Lance Lynn (confirmed)
2. Lucas Giolito (confirmed)
3. Carlos Rodon
4. Dylan Cease

Projected Astros Lineup
1. Jose Altuve – 2B
2. Michael Brantley – DH
3. Alex Bregman – 3B
4. Yordan Alvarez – LF
5. Carlos Correa – SS
6. Yuli Gurriel – 1B
7. Kyle Tucker – RF
8. Jake Meyers – CF
9. Martin Maldonado/Jason Castro – C

Projected Astros Rotation
1. Lance McCullers (confirmed)
2. Framber Valdez (confirmed)
3. Luis Garcia
4. Jose Urquidy

The Astros have consistently been one of the offensive powerhouses in the MLB for years now. To compare a young and inexperienced Sox team to them would be foolish, but that’s not to say they won’t be able to keep up. When the Sox offense is clicking, they become one of the most dangerous lineups from 1-6, with solid production at 7-9. Led by veteran Jose Abreu, the young batters have the potential to be what the Astros currently are. Yasmani Grandal and Luis Robert are some of the hottest hitters in baseball and look to carry that into October. Grandal is hitting .337/.481/.673 with 9 HR and 24 RBI, and Robert is hitting .341/.382/.651 in their last 30 games.

In the news Wednesday afternoon, it was announced that last year’s AL MVP, Jose Abreu didn’t make the initial trip to Houston due to non-COVID illness. He flew into Houston late Wednesday and is questionable for Game 1 Thursday. Obviously would be a huge blow, anybody who knows Abreu knows there’s a little-to-no chance he misses a game. If he can’t go, look for Andrew Vaughn to take his spot at first base.

With it being a tossup to take the hill in Game 1 between Giolito and Lynn, La Russa announced that Lance Lynn would be the Game 1 starter, with Lucas Giolito taking the bump in Game 2. It sounds that this is due partly to Lynn’s comfort of pitching on short rest. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lynn pitches Game 1, Giolito pitches Game 2, Cease pitches Game 3, then Lynn turns around on short rest to pitch a potential Game 4 if Carlos Rodon is unable to make a start, which sets up Lucas Giolito for a potential Game 5.

Making their first appearance in the ALDS since 2008, the White Sox have the tools to make a deep run in October. With a former World Series Champion and Hall of Famer at the helm, an explosive 1-6 in the lineup, a rotation with 3 Cy Young candidates, and a bullpen led by two of the best closers in baseball, the White Sox have their eyes set on making a run at the Commissioner’s Trophy for the first time since 2005.

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