MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox

South Side Morning 5: Opening Day

1. Chris Sale faces Sonny Gray in the best pitching matchup of Opening Day. I am aware of the Corey Kluber-David Price game, I looked them all up before I did this and decided to double down on this claim for my baseball connoisseur cred. The game played at 10:00pm EDT in a dimly-lit Dungeon in the Bay is the real best game of the day. Now we are really living up to the level of pretension and obscurity of the Baseball Prospectus brand.

Sale and Gray have never faced each other, though somehow Sale has faced the injury-prone Jarrod Parker three times. Think of how much harder it will be for them to match up after Gray gets traded to Cubs.

Gray’s is projected for about half the value as Sale by PECOTA for 2016 because 1. Sale is really good and 2. Gray’s peripherals become more pedestrian when he’s in Oakland Coliseum (7.3 K/9, 51.6 GB%) compared to who he is on the road (8.1 K/9, 57.2 GB%), and he seems to be more focused on pounding the zone (3.1 BB/9 down to 2.3 BB/9). Not being completely starved for power might aid the Sox in dealing with this approach this year.

One-on-one matchups are mostly noise, but if Billy Butler owning Chris Sale (.357/.404/.643) has been a constant annoyance for a while and if it continues even as he becomes an albatross for his current team, maybe we’ll really know it is for real.

2. Jimmy Rollins will be batting second on Opening Day, which reads as a rather significant subversion of the thinking that placed Jose Abreu in the No. 2 hole last season. Rollins has never been a great OBP guy–he only had a .344 OBP in his MVP season–and is coming off a season where he reached base at a .285 OBP clip. His offensive potential is the reason he’s starting over Tyler Saladino, but that’s a potential that doesn’t stretch far beyond hopefully a .300 OBP with moderate pop–not something to leverage the top of the order on.

Besides just putting Abreu back to where he belongs, the type of hitter Robin Ventura seems to be searching for is Melky Cabrera, whom he is likely avoiding for the sake of ducking having him in the same position where he flopped last season.

It feels so great to be griping about lineups again!

3. Alex Avila will also be getting the Opening Day nod at catcher, starting a season-long curiosity in how the Sox will split the playing time between him and Dioner Navarro. A traditional platoon split would make Avila the primary starter, especially in the AL Central, but durability and performance concerns (can he still put a bat on a ball?) make banking on him for even 100 games seem dicey. Are they going to try to keep both with an even split? Is Navarro going to be aggressively used late in games for matchups?

Navarro is a better bet to scratch what league average for catcher offense is these days in regular action, which is likely why he was able to demand more money, but Avila’s quieter actions behind the plate and game management make him more appealing. It’s a question of a much tolerance a long start with a sub-.200 average will bet met with for Avila. but if he just hits like its 2011 again, it won’t be an issue (He won’t).

4. The White Sox announced Chance the Rapper will throw out the first pitch at their home opener on Friday; a promising start to the dream of ‘Chance the Rapper–White Sox hypeman and talisman.’

Chance previously threw out the first pitch on May 30, 2014, which was followed by the Sox losing 4-1 to the Padres in a game where they blew a genuinely good start from John Danks, but this was before he rapped the line “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to Hell/I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.” So, suffice it to say the calculus has changed just a bit.*

*Sorry to all the non-rap fans out there who just had their time wasted.

5. Paul Sullivan had an interview with Robin Ventura about his lame duck status heading into the 2016 season. Unsurprisingly, Ventura is publicly very unbothered about not being under contract after this season and praised the team’s vibe through camp.

Ventura famously turned down a contract extension after his successful first year at the helm, which only furthered speculation at the time that he was an unwilling passenger in the organization’s unique fascination with him (this is his first coaching job, after all). While there is little reason to seriously doubt Ventura’s commitment to his work, he’s never read as the type of striving careerist who would be stewing about a lack of financially guaranteed job security, especially with the regard he has with ownership. Ventura lost his bench coach over the offseason, so he is likely well-aware of the stakes at hand, but keeping the peace is his primary skill–one still touted even after the LaRoche madness–and that starts with his own conduct.

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