The Tampa Bay Rays continued their destruction of the Baltimore Orioles with a four game sweep going 12-1 on the season. Now their focus turns to the one team locked into their playoff spot in the American League, the Chicago White Sox.
Thanks to a very weak American League Central the White Sox possess a 11.5 game lead in the division. With 40 games to play it would be one of the biggest collapses in Major League history if they fall out of the top spot.
In the American League East things have come into focus. The Rays stand atop the division with a 5.0 game lead over the New York Yankees, 6.5 game lead over the Boston Red Sox, 10.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, and a 36.0 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.
Friday 7:10 PM: Lucas Giolito vs Michael Wacha
Saturday 1:10 PM: Dallas Keuchel vs Luis Patino
Sunday 1:10 PM: Reynaldo Lopez vs Chris Archer
Thanks to solid starting pitching and use of the Durham Shuttle the Rays bullpen is very well rested. With off-days coming on Monday and Thursday, Kevin Cash is positioned to be aggressive with his usage this weekend.
After a rough start to his career Lucas Giolito has been one of the better starting pitchers since 2019. In 2021 he’s regressed some but still put up a very solid 3.83 ERA/4.04 FIP/3.77 xFIP over 141.0 innings. His strikeout rate has fallen to 28.2% while also lowering his walk rate to 7.4%. In June the Rays put up three runs in 6.0 innings against Giolito. In 18 of his 24 starts he’s allowed three runs or fewer. Giolito works primarily off a 93.9 mph four-seam fastball and 81.5 mph changeup. Against right handers he adds a 85.8 mph slider. He will very rarely throw a 81.0 mph curveball. Most of the damage has been done off his four-seam fastball.
Dallas Keuchel is the veteran version of Josh Fleming. This year’s results haven’t been nearly as good as we’ve become accustomed to. He has a 4.48 ERA/5.28 FIP/4.49 xFIP over 130.2 innings. While never a strikeout pitcher his strikeout rate has fallen to 14.2% where he would typically post rates in the low 20s at his peak. With the fall in strikeouts has come a rise in walk at 7.9%. He still lives on getting groundballs (56.0% groundball rate). When batters have been able to get the ball off the ground they have been very successful in putting up a 21.4% HR/FB rate. For the most part Keuchel is a three pitch pitcher throwing a 87.6 mph sinker, 79.5 mph changeup, and 85.0 mph cutter. He will rarely throw a 77.6 mph slider.
Reynaldo Lopez was once a highly rated prospect that has moved from a multi-inning role to the starting rotation due to injuries. It’s only been 25.0 innings but his 2021 results have been fantastic with a 1.08 ERA/3.50 FIP/3.71 xFIP which is far better than his career 4.59 ERA/4.83 FIP/5.20 xFIP over 515.2 innings. His strikeout rate has shot up almost 10% to 28.9% while he’s also walking fewer than he typically has (7.8%). Lopez has been primarily a two pitch pitcher throwing a 95.8 mph four-seam fastball and 86.5 mph slider. He has mixed in a few 77.0 mph curveballs and 86.2 mph changeups but they account for less than 7% of his pitches thrown.
Even though they had an All-Star closer in Liam Hendricks the White Sox made one of the most surprising moves of the trade deadline adding the best reliever on the market in Craig Kimbrel. They have a lot of high power arms in the bullpen. Generally the Rays are very happy to get down into a bullpen game with any opponent but the White Sox have the arms to match.
The White Sox have the sixth highest scoring offense in the majors.
The White Sox have a very productive offense. They have hit .251/.333/.419 and put up a 109 wRC+. They are averaging 4.97 runs per game which is the sixth best in the game, but do trail the Rays who are scoring 5.26 runs per game which is good for second best.
The White Sox have seen some major injuries to their position player core, but are getting healthier. Eloy Jiminez and Luis Robert are back, but Yasmani Grandal remains sidelined.
The White Sox only have four players who have gotten 350 or more plate appearances, but they are four of their best hitters. Jose Abreu (124 wRC+), Andrew Vaughn (119 wRC+), Yoan Moncada (116 wRC+), and Tim Anderson (115 wRC+) are the driving force at the top of their lineup.
They have had to fill in the rest of their lineup with under the radar options that have been solid for the most part. Very few players have cost them significantly when forced into more playing time than was planned.
Defensively metrics are split on whether the White Sox are good defensively. Their -12 DRS placed them solidly in the bottom ten, but their +16.4 UZR places them third best.
The White Sox have played mediocre ball.
The White Sox have a giant 11.5 game lead in their division. It’s easy to get complacent and it’s very difficult to foresee them not winning the division. However their 17-16 record since the All-Star break is only ok.
The White Sox are a good team but they have struggled against other good teams. Against teams with a .500 or better record they are 20-25 while the Rays are 40-33. The amount of games against good teams isn’t their fault, but they have feasted on bad teams going 51-26 against teams below .500.
The Rays did what they needed to against Baltimore. They have solidified their lead. There are 40 games remaining. They are where they want to be, but they still have to play well to win the division.
UPDATE - Chris Archer will be activated from the injured list for Sunday’s start, potentially moving Drew Rasmussen back into a bullpen role.