Similar to the Reds, the Chicago White Sox came into the 2020 season with high expectations. Backed by one of the best farm systems in baseball and a fair amount of spending in free agency, the organization was looking to start their competitive window a year or two earlier than expected.
This will be the first meeting between the two since 2018, when the Reds won a three-game series in Chicago. Both teams have improved steadily since then, as the Reds’ three pitchers of record in that series were Dylan Floro, Jackson Stephens and Sal Romano. As the Reds continue their postseason push, let’s take a look at their weekend opponent.
The White Sox did not spend a day of the 2019 season above .500. Both the White Sox and Reds had similar trajectories, as their records at the end of June (39-42, 38-43) gave the fanbase optimism for a potential playoff push. After finishing the month just three games under .500, the Sox sputtered to a 7-17 record in July, ultimately finishing the season 72-89.
While their third-place finish in 2019 didn’t seem bad on paper, the White Sox did finish 29 games out of first, as the Twins and Indians won 101 and 93 games, respectively. They built their foundation for the future though, as the team had three All-Star game representatives, and three young stars experience breakout seasons.
First baseman Jose Abreu (.344 wOBA, 117 WRC+), catcher James McCann (18 HR, 3.7 WAR) and starting pitcher Lucas Giolito (228 Ks, 3.43 FIP) represented the team in Cleveland. The biggest story, however, was the emergence of their three young stars.
Shortstop Tim Anderson won the American League batting title in his age-26 season, finishing the season with a .335 average and 128 OPS+. Yoan Moncada finally began to live up to his former prospect hype, as he improved his OPS from .714 to .915, adding 64 extra-base hits in just 132 games. The most encouraging sign may have been rookie Eloy Jimenez, who finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting after hitting 31 home runs and posting a 116 WRC+.
While needing to add from the outside, the White Sox also made a priority of locking up their players internally.
Arguably their biggest move of the offseason was signing super-prospect Luis Robert to a six-year, $50 million extension. Robert had never appeared in a Major League game when he signed the contract, but he was coming off a season where he posted at least a 136 WRC+ at three different levels (A+, AA, AAA). The team also extended another Cuban star, as they rewarded first baseman Jose Abreu with a new three-year, $50 million contract. Since joining Chicago in 2014, Abreu has posted a 136 OPS+ and had five 100-RBI seasons.
Externally, the biggest goal was to improve their starting pitching, as the team finished 2019 with a porous 4.81 xFIP. They were able to shore this up by signing two veteran left-handed pitchers in Dallas Keuchel (three-years, $55.5 million) and Gio Gonzalez (one-year, $5 million).
At the plate, they were looking to add to a young core that averaged just 4.37 runs per game. They were successful in their efforts, signing one of the top free agents in catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal was coveted by many teams, including the Reds, and was brought in to provide offensive and defensive assurance. They were able to add slugger Edwin Encarnacion later in the offseason to a one-year, $12 million deal, with a club option for 2021.
2020 White Sox
After improving their roster substantially and pushing prospects to the Major League level, the 2020 season has been wildly successful for the White Sox. They come to Great American Ball Park leading the American League Central, currently pacing the American League in wins. After starting 3-4, the team has gone 29-12 in August and September, becoming one of the most exciting teams to watch in the process.
Their big free agent acquisitions have basically been a wash. Grandal has been solid, albeit unspectacular, posting a .775 OPS and .341 wOBA. Encarnacion, on the other hand, has posted a career-low 80 WRC+ in 2020. On the mound, Keuchel has been outstanding. Through nine starts he has a stellar 3.19 FIP, and he could return to the mound against the Reds after having trouble with back spasms. Gonzalez, however, has thrown just 27.1 innings and has a 5.25 FIP.
Tim Anderson has built off his impressive 2019 season by hitting .377 in 38 games, currently leading all of baseball in batting average. His on-base percentage has also increased from .357 to .414. After signing his extension this offseason, Jose Abreu has rewarded the organization with a .991 OPS, currently leading the AL in hits (65) and RBI (48). Moncada has regressed at the plate this season (101 OPS+), but the two other young Cuban stars have been outstanding. Eloy Jimenez is currently hitting .306/.344/.583 with a 148 OPS+, while Robert is leading the AL Rookie of the Year race with an .820 OPS and 2.1 WAR.
White Sox Prospects
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the White Sox have one of the best farm systems in baseball. They graduated Robert to the Major Leagues this year, but he is not the only prospect who is now making an impact.
Nick Madrigal, who the White Sox selected 4th overall in the 2018 MLB Draft, made his MLB debut this year and has appeared in 18 games. The contact-machine has posted a .339 average and 108 WRC+ in 68 plate appearances. 25-year old rookie Dane Dunning, who was acquired with Lucas Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade, has been outstanding in 27 Major League innings, compiling a 3.20 FIP and 0.926 WHIP.
While we won’t see them in this series, two prospects to remember for the future are Andrew Vaughn and Michael Kopech, who will likely both be playing for the White Sox in 2021.
The White Sox are one of few teams to exceed expectations in 2020. The organization has found a solid blend of internal and external pieces to form a roster that is exciting and built to win. The Reds will hope to shut down their young superstars while avoiding their better starters. Despite the possibility of facing Keuchel, they will not have to face Lucas Giolito or Dane Dunning. Expect a fun series this weekend at GABP.
[Photo Credit: Robert Rescot]