MLB: Chicago White Sox at Oakland Athletics

It Begins – Game Preview & Lineups 4/4

It’s baseball that counts. You’ve waited over 5 months for this, and it’ll be 6 more before you have to go over a day without it, unless you count the All Star Break which in this particular game preview I have decided not to do. The schedule makers may have dealt the Sox a poor hand by scheduling the season opener well after business hours on a school night for those in Chicago, but perhaps an underlying kindness exists in getting first cracks at a team PECOTA has picked to finish last in its division.  At the very least they’ll be used to being on Pacific Time given that they’ve been in Arizona and California for weeks now.

The Athletics are coming off of their worst finish since 1997, which led to them missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Seven trades were made during the offseason, necessary to keep pace with the heavy dealing the team was engaging in during the 2015 season. The Oakland squad has a reputation that no player is safe, and it’s earned. Every game is a tryout when you’re wearing white shoes with some variation of green and/or yellow.

Among the additions not achieved through trade is left hander Rich Hill.  Hill wasn’t expecting to pitch when he woke up today, but originally scheduled starter Sonny Gray was an afternoon scratch due to food poisoning. Hill has had a strange career trajectory. Early on he failed to live up to the expectations stemming from his overwhelming curveball. He then spent time as bullpen journeyman after being scrapped as a starter, and once he found himself successful in a handful of starts for Boston in 2015, he parlayed it into a nice free agent contract from the A’s. The success of four starts in the last five years is evidently enough to slot him in at #2 on the A’s depth chart, needing only the push of some bad fish tacos to make him an opening day starter. The world is a crazy place.

Chris Sale, predictably, is representing Chicago’s South side as the season gets underway. Sale is expected to maintain the dominance he’s shown in each of his four seasons as a starter, while the Sox are coming off of their worst season since…the season before. Which was also their worst season since the season before that. Less depressingly put: the White Sox are trending up!

2015 Chris Sale was just as devastating to hitters as he’s always been, his league leading 64 cFIP is even an improvement on previous years, but the look of his more traditional stats took a hit due to a terrible defense behind him, and of course an anemic offense that was regularly lacking in run support. The 2016 edition should benefit from some turnover. Todd Frazier at 3rd represents an improvement on both sides of the ball, and from an offensive standpoint both Jimmy Rollins and Brett Lawrie hope to represent improvements while not costing the team much on the defensive end.

White Sox Lineup:

  1. Adam Eaton – RF
  2. Jimmy Rollins – SS
  3. Jose Abreu – 1B
  4. Todd Frazier – 3B
  5. Melky Cabrera – LF
  6. Avisail Garcia – DH
  7. Brett Lawrie – 2B
  8. Dioner Navarro – C
  9. Austin Jackson – CF

Athletics Lineup:

  1. Billy Burns – CF
  2. Jed Lowrie – 2B
  3. Josh Reddick – RF
  4. Danny Valencia – 3B
  5. Khris Davis – LF
  6. Billy Butler – DH
  7. Mark Canha – 1B
  8. Stephen Vogt – C
  9. Marcus Semien – SS

Concerns about whether or not Robin Ventura would bat Jimmy Rollins second in the batting order preceded the knowledge that Jimmy Rollins would even be the starting shortstop. You’ll hear varying schools of thought regarding the importance of lineup construction. On an any-given-game basis, it might not matter a great deal, but the idea is to accrue a higher likelihood of success over the course of a season. With that goal in mind, batting your aging middle infielder whose .285 OBP would be the lowest of any of Chicago’s 2015 regular starters (other than, oddly enough, his predecessor Alexei Ramirez, who had the same OBP) in what many would contend is one of the most important spots in the lineup is puzzling. With Mark Parent out, and Rick Renteria in as bench coach, the Sox made a specific point of announcing their intention to be more analytic from the bench. I’m not prepared to call foul before the season even starts, but in the first opportunity to show it, we see indications of the same dugout thinking that has accompanied Robin’s regime throughout.

When alluding to the lineup late last week, Ventura pre-emptively defended his decision, while at least not committing to full-time exposure in the 2-spot for his shortstop:

“He can move. Just because he’s a switch-hitter and can handle the bat, he can go to a couple of different places. Right now it looks like he’ll be [second].”

But today is not a day to get upset, at least as long as a dominant Chris Sale start doesn’t go to waste. Today is a day to rejoice. It’s the first White Sox game of a new season, and it’s the first Chris Sale Day of the season. I advise you to stay up late and enjoy it.


Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

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