The nitty gritty elements of baseball are back. With the beginning of the White Sox season, returned are the days of passing notes like “The team plane didn’t land until 3:00am last night,” and “looking for Chris Sale to go deep into the game after his bullpen covered seven innings yesterday,” and “it’s closer-by-committee today because David Robertson locked himself in his own attic on accident,” and soberly mulling the very really impact of these events on the game of the day.
The White Sox start their season in Oakland, a traditional house of horrors, but they literally swept the A’s in their own place last May. It’s really hard to launch an ‘Oakland is traditionally unfriendly’ argument immediately after a sweep. It’s almost as if the A’s being a bad baseball team are a larger factor in this equation than anything else, and that will likely still be the dominant factor (PECOTA pegs them for 86 losses and they need what would be surprisingly big years from Rich Hill and Chris Bassitt in the heart of their rotation).
Traveling to the West coast is typically a bear, but the Sox have been in California since last week and will be coming from an off day. They likely won’t feel the burn until their home opener Friday, which comes barely over 24 hours after they start their final game in Oakland.
Jerry Sands making the roster doesn’t promise to provide a ton of use, given that he’s a lefty-masher in a division where Tommy Milone is the only left-handed opposing starter. But at least the Sox project to face Milone in their series against the Twins next week, should he stick at the No. 4 slot. That comes after Rich Hill in the second game of the year, a bizarrely temporarily four-man Rays rotation with Drew Smyly and Matt Moore, an Angels rotation with Andrew Heaney and Hector Santiago, and a chance of running into J.A. Happ at the end of the month. More division-heavy months are going to make the Sox need for a left-handed upgrade quite clear, but point being, if the Sox have any sincere interest in using Sands, that will reveal itself in the first month.
Finally, much has been made–well, relative to this tiny corner of humanity–about the 19 games in 19 days stretch the Sox face starting on the 13th, and whether the White Sox pitching depth can sustain the workload without needing an extra reliever. The worrisome Spring put together by Mat Latos, which has in turn prompted the signing of Miguel Gonzalez, has offered the distinct possibility of some four and five inning efforts at the end of the rotation.
I shade old school on the rising trend of expanding bullpens, and the Sox have some old school tendencies of their own, such as letting their starters throw more than any other team in baseball. The Sox are the only franchise in baseball that lets its starters throw over a hundred pitches per night, and while it’s not a perfect relationship, that usually transitions into more innings and less work for relievers. Combined with the Sox record for pitching health, and this stretch coming early in the year before rest for Sale and Carlos Rodon becomes a major consideration, I see the Sox navigating their early-year gauntlet with a standard roster setup intact.
Lead Photo Credit: Jake Roth // USA Today Sports Images