The Chicago White Sox face the Cleveland Guardians for the first time this season in a three-game series starting Tuesday. Cleveland is in a rebuild, of some sort, but early on in the season have looked promising and has put together a talented roster. This unique position the Guardians find themselves in entering the series makes the matchup with the White Sox all the more intriguing.
The White Sox are going to have their hands full despite odds being in their favor to win the series. While players like Shane Bieber, Jose Ramirez, and Steven Kwan will give the Sox problems, here are four things to watch out for ahead of the series opener with the Guardians.
Dallas Keuchel will start the first game of the series with an extra day of rest. The biggest question heading into Tuesday is how Keuchel will build off his first start of the season and if he can remain a valuable starter in the backend of the rotation.
Keuchel’s first start of the season was a mixed bag, pitching five innings and allowing three runs. However, Keuchel notably mixed in his off-speed pitches and forced a lot of weak contact off the bat. The 34-year-old left-handed starter relied on his sinker as his primary pitch to force multiple groundouts against the Mariners. As a result, he might go back to that formula and throw the pitch more often in this start.
The Guardians lineup isn’t one to take lightly but if Keuchel can locate his pitches, notably his cutter and sinker, he can put together another strong start. The series opener will be a test to see what the White Sox have in their rotation. Is Keuchel going to elevate the rotation this season or become a liability?
Cease vs. McKenzie
Dylan Cease, by default, has emerged as the White Sox ace. Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito both went down with injuries early on in the season, but Cease has stepped up in their absence. The 26-year-old starter has pitched 10.2 innings in two starts and has only allowed two runs on the season.
Moreover, Cease has formed a lethal fastball-slider combo on the mound that has fueled his strong starts. The ability to successfully throw both have given Cease a .235 expected opponent Slugging Percentage (XSLG) which is one of the best in the MLB. With the weak contact from the White Sox ace, the next start is shaping up to be a pitching duel against the Guardians.
Tristan McKenzie has only started one game this season, a seven-inning start with two runs allowed and seven strikeouts. While McKenzie struggled last season, the 24-year-old right-hander has proven early on in his career that he has a high ceiling.
McKenzie looks poised to have a breakout year and will hope to silence the potent White Sox lineup while also outdueling Cease. As a result, the matchup on Wednesday is shaping up to be a pitcher’s duel between two young promising starters in the division.
Anderson’s Continued Leadoff Success
Tim Anderson continues to make his mark as the leadoff hitter for the White Sox. In 29 plate appearances, Anderson has 11 hits and a team-leading 17 total bases. Additionally, the White Sox leadoff hitter has a .414 On Base Percentage and a .442 expected weighted On Base Average, helping constantly set the table for the power hitters that follow.
Anderson’s value to the White Sox lineup is unprecedented and his ability to be on base allows the White Sox to easily pile on the runs at the top of their batting order. The White Sox hope to see the strong plate appearances from their leadoff batter continue against Cleveland, helping fuel the success of the lineup. Testing the Guardian pitching staff early and often will be key to controlling this series and the player to lead the way is Anderson.
Vaughn in the Lineup
Andrew Vaughn has been one of the pleasant surprises in the lineup early this season. The 24-year-old has 15 total bases in 25 plate appearances along with two home runs. The success of Vaughn makes his role in the lineup and the roster, interesting to say the least.
Vaughn wasn’t a starter to begin the year, coming off the bench for AJ Pollock. Vaughn also isn’t an everyday outfielder and when he has started, he slotted into the back half of the batting order. While he’s not a power hitter like Jose Abreu or Yasmani Grandal, the young outfielder could move up in the lineup and help an already good White Sox lineup look even better.
The upcoming series could be an ideal opportunity to see if Vaughn moves in the batting order. In addition, Vaughn continuing to add offense to the lineup will give Tony La Russa a clearer picture of what the young slugger could provide to the White Sox. At the moment, he is a super substitute who provides a spark off the bench, but the argument to make the 24-year-old an everyday player can be made already.
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