MLB: Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

Looking for the Man in White: White Sox Series Preview

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Chicago White Sox

Monday, April 25th – Wednesday, April 27th

Written by Michael Passador and Chris Sherwin

The Blue Jays welcome the White Sox into town sitting at 10-10 after taking two of three from Oakland. Although Aaron Sanchez had his first poor outing of the year on Friday, strong outings from J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchison were supported by a resurgent lineup to notch weekend wins. An out-of-body experience from Ezequiel Carrera added some punch to a lineup longing for output beyond its usual suspects. The Jays head into this series with some nice momentum and will look to keep the good times rolling and leave the .500 mark in the rear-view mirror.

The White Sox are fresh off a home sweep of the Rangers and come in with a record of 13-6. On the back of strong pitching and a 7-3 road record, the White Sox are currently outperforming many predictions and lead the AL Central. They present a different challenge from 2015’s group thanks to several offseason acquisitions. After losing Jeff Samardizja in free agency, GM Rick Hahn went out and signed Mat Latos to shore up the rotation. On the offensive side, the team traded for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie and chose not to re-sign Alexei Ramirez, meaning ¾ of their infield is brand new. The Sox also let Tyler Flowers walk as a free agent and replaced him with Dioner Navarro. With Lawrie, Navarro and Melky Cabrera, the White Sox feature a bevy of familiar faces for Toronto fans.

Pitching Matchups:

Monday, April 25th – First Pitch 7:07 PM ET

Marcus Stroman vs. Miguel Gonzalez

In in his first four starts of the season, Stroman has shown flashes of the ace many fans believe he can be, while also looking shaky at times. He currently holds the second worst ERA on the staff behind R.A. Dickey, but he leads the group with over seven innings per start. Almost all of the damage has come late (or with him already out of the game), so his numbers are considerably worse than his actual performance. Gibbons will just have to be ready to remove him if he starts to struggle towards the back of the ballgame. Stroman has been toying with his new power sinker which he can get up to an average of 92mph. It doesn’t miss bats at all, but he is pounding the bottom of the strike zone and producing a league leading 61.8 percent ground ball rate. The White have scored the second fewest runs in the AL and should be in for a long night against the third year starter.

Robin Ventura switched up the Sox rotation prior to the road trip to avoid throwing three lefties against the right-handed mashers on the Blue Jays, so Miguel Gonzalez was recalled from AAA to make Monday’s start. Gonzalez had an impressive two year run with the Orioles from 2012-2014 posting an ERA of 3.45, but he completely fell apart in 2015 which led to his release in spring training of this year. Even with his struggles, he still managed to keep the high octane Jays offense in check in the two starts against them in 2015. In those two starts, he allowed 5 runs and only one extra base hit. For his career, he has an ERA of 2.61 in 76 innings against the Jays. He relies heavily on and a sinking fastball in the low 90s and a changeup to get outs.

Tuesday, April 26th – First Pitch 7:07 PM ET

R.A. Dickey vs. Chris Sale

Dickey is no stranger to April struggles, and 2016 is no different. For his career, Dickey has an ERA of 5.02 in March/April, but he is at 6.10 this year. Luckily for Jays fans, that evens out as the season goes on, and we saw flashes of that in his most recent start. His outing against the Orioles was his first where he was able to stay in the game for more than five innings, and he shut Baltimore down after allowing three first inning runs. He needs to start going deep into games more often, as Dickey’s biggest value is that he eats up over 200 innings every year.

Since debuting as a starter in 2012, Sale is third in the AL in ERA and K/9, and fourth in innings pitched. He has continued his dominant streak so far in 2016, going 4-0 to start the year and completing seven innings in each of his four starts. His strikeout numbers aren’t where they usually are at this point, but his run prevention hasn’t faltered. The strikeout stuff is still there though, as he comes at hitters with a fastball in the upper 90s and a nasty slider and changeup. This could be a rough night for Jays fans.

Wednesday, April 27th – First Pitch 7:07 PM ET

Marco Estrada vs. Jose Quintana

Coming into 2016, the narrative surrounding Estrada was that he would regress and not be able to repeat his magical 2015 campaign. In three starts Estrada has quieted his skeptics somewhat with a huge K/9 rate of 10.00 and an ERA of 2.50. His most recent start was arguably his weakest of 2016, yet he still managed to hold Baltimore to one run over five innings. Estrada has run into trouble when he doesn’t use his fastball up in the zone this. This is something to keep an eye on as the season progresses and Estrada and Martin become more used to each other.

Quintana has always been an overlooked. but very reliable pitcher. You rarely hear his name mentioned when discussing great starters, but he has he has three straight seasons of 30 starts/200 innings and hovers just above a 3.00 ERA. His strikeout numbers have never been elite, but he doesn’t walk anyone and keeps the long ball in check. He’s off to a fantastic start in 2016, as well. In his first four starts he has an ERA of 1.82 and has yet to give up a homerun. This of course could change when facing the powerhouse right-handed hitting Jays. In the early goings, righties are batting .288 compared to .188 from left-handed hitters. While he’s pitched well against Toronto in the past, 1.88 ERA in seven career starts, he’s coming to the Rogers Centre at a dangerous time as the Jays hitters appear to finding their groove.

Additions and Subtractions

Drew Hutchison performed admirably in yesterday’s spot start and will likely be was sent down before the first game of this series, but it’s a near certainty that we’ll see Hutch again this year. As of this writing the move has yet to be made, but this space will be updated once it is announced. A pair of Jays have been dealing with minor injuries, though it seems likely both will be good to go against the White Sox. Jesse Chavez returned during Sunday’s series finale, and despite surrendering a solo homer, the Jays will be happy to have their full complement of bullpen men at the ready. On the offensive side, after playing in Saturday’s game, it appeared that Russell Martin was past his neck problems until he was a late scratch from Sunday’s game. The Jays have to hope that these issues won’t linger, as any absence from Martin (currently ‘day to day’) would press Josh Thole into regular duty. As I’m sure you know, that’s not ideal.

For Chicago, Alex Avila was placed on the 15 day DL with a hamstring injury, meaning Navarro will handle the bulk of the catching duties moving forward. Avila actually leads the White Sox in pitches per plate appearance, so Jays’ pitchers may be lucky to avoid one of the opponent’s most patient hitters. Catcher Kevan Smith has been recalled from AAA Charlotte, where the 27 year old slashed .345/.394/.586 through 8 games.

Keep an Eye On

Early Game Struggles

In the 10 games since April 15th the Blue Jays have surrendered runs in the first and second innings five and four times, respectively. Whatever the reason for the slow starts from the otherwise solid starting rotation, whether or not the early-inning damage gets limited or prevented entirely will be worth watching. Playing from behind is never ideal, and the problems have been exacerbated by the offense starting slower than expected. Against a team that struggles to score (3.16 runs per game), hanging zeroes on the scoreboard will be a huge help to an offense that’s facing a tough challenge.

White Sox Pitching

Said challenge comes in the form of Southsider pitching, as they lead the majors in opponent average (.202) and are second in ERA (2.35) and WHIP (1.01). Baserunners may be a limited commodity for the Jays this series, so they’ll need to string together hits more effectively than they have in the early going (last series notwithstanding). A strong offensive showing against Oakland is hopefully a sign of things to come, though that will prove to be tougher sledding against Chris Sale and company. On the positive side Sale and Quintana are left handers, so while the Jays should definitely be prepared to battle, their record of performance against lefties serves as a nice reassurance that this team can hit off just about anyone; especially southpaws.

Justin Smoak

Smoak, he of the improbable stat line, will be looking at regular playing time for the foreseeable future thanks to Chris Colabello’s suspension. He established a new career high with 59 RBI in a solid effort last season and hopefully consistent at bats will get him going. Although his BABIP and sky-high OBP are prime for regression, the Blue Jays will be hoping to ride the wave a little while longer, as any contribution from the bottom half of the lineup will be welcomed with open arms. Fresh off a day with an RBI single and a deep fly ball to the right-center track, Smoak will look to strengthen the lower half of the lineup going forward.

Probable Lineup

Chicago White Sox

Toronto Blue Jays

1 Adam Eaton (RF) 1 Michael Saunders (LF)
2 Jimmy Rollins (SS) 2 Josh Donaldson (3B)
3 Jose Abreu (1B) 3 Jose Bautista (RF)
4 Todd Frazier (3B) 4 Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
5 Melky Cabrera (LF) 5 Troy Tulowitzki (DH)
6 Brett Lawire (2B) 6 Russell Martin (C)
7 Avisail Garcia (DH) 7 Justin Smoak (1B)
8 Dioner Navarro (C) 8 Kevin Pillar (CF)
9 Austin Jackson (CF) 9 Ryan Goins (2B)

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

This past weekend was a good representation of what the Jays were expected to look like this year. Strong offense paired with pitching that ranges from adequate to very good is hopefully the norm going forward. Dodging John Danks thanks to Gonzalez’s spot start already seems like a neutral reward at best, and while Chris Sale always makes for a tough day at the office, the Jays’ bats are coming in hot. Much like the set against Oakland, the opponent comes to Toronto playing well but the Jays are generally the superior team. If contributions from lesser names like Carrera, Smoak, Pillar and Barney keep rolling in they should be able to take care of business.

Lead Photo: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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