SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The White Sox entered the season as the overwhelming favorite in the American League Central, but their start has been a bit rocky, especially at the plate.
While the season has not gone the White Sox way thus far, they are starting to turn things around over the last week or so, including a little two-game sweep this week against their crosstown rival Cubs. Overall, they’ve won four of their last five, though they haven’t scored more than four runs in any of those wins. (Ironically, they scored five in the loss.)
5/6: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Vince Velasquez, 7:10 PM ET (Apple TV+ exclusive)
As the Red Sox look to break their five-series losing streak, they will be able to turn to their ace Nathan Eovaldi for the opener. While the righty’s peripherals are still a little out of whack due to some home run issues at the start of the year, there’s little reason to worry about him on a start-to-start basis. He’s pitched to a 2.51 ERA on the young season, striking out what would be a career-high 28 percent of opponents while limiting walks at an even better rate than he has in recent years. He’s coming off his best start of the year, striking out eight without issuing a walk across seven scoreless innings, and he’ll look to pick up where he left off here on Friday night.
Over on the other side, the Red Sox face a guy who could potentially get them going if they don’t do his job for him. Velasquez was once a very intriguing prospect in the Astros and Phillies systems, but he’s never quite been able to harness to stuff to be an effective starter. Now in his age-30 season, he’s in his first season with the White Sox and things have gone just about as expected. The righty strikes out more than a batter per inning and has some nasty stuff, but his command is all over the place, which results in both walks and hard contact. Overall he’s pitched to a 4.58 ERA over four starts with a 4.34 FIP. That said, he’s also coming off a strong outing, having shut out the Angels over 5 2⁄3 innings with six strikeouts and no walks. The Red Sox have to be patient here and not expand the zone. Velasquez will has a big arsenal, with a pair of fastballs that sit in the 92-94 range along with a curveball, slider, and changeup.
5/7: Nick Pivetta vs. TBD, 4:10 PM ET
For the most part, the Red Sox rotation has been pretty impressive this season, especially the last few turns with Garrett Whitlock joining the group. The one weak link, though, has largely been Pivetta. The righty has an ugly 7.84 ERA over five starts, with a FIP of 5.47 that is significantly better, but still quite bad. The big problem has been walks, as he’s issued free passes to over 13 percent of his opponents while his strikeout rate has also fallen to a roughly league-average rate. If you’re looking for a positive, while he did allow three runs over 4 1⁄3 innings his last time out, he also didn’t issue a walk. It’s a step in the right direction, but Pivetta really needs legitimate strong showing here to gain some momentum. He’ll, I’ll take a clean five-inning start, an innings threshold he has not reached since his first start of the year.
Beyond Velasquez, the White Sox have not announced their pitching plans for the rest of the series just yet. It seems the decision comes down to whether or not they want to skip Dallas Keuchel for this turn through the rotation. This would be the day he’s lined up to start, but the veteran lefty has been struggling mightily with an ERA of 8.40 and more walks than strikeouts. Coming off a day off on Thursday, they can skip Keuchel and go with Dylan Cease on full rest if they so choose. Cease has been awesome this season, with a 2.48 ERA and 1.99 FIP buoyed in large part by a 34 percent strikeout rate. His last time out he one-hit the Angels over seven scoreless innings, striking out 11 without issuing a walk. The Red Sox should see him either way this weekend. It’s just a matter of if it’ll be Saturday or Sunday.
5/8: Michael Wacha vs. TBD, 11:35 AM ET (NBC, Peacock)
Eovaldi is still clearly the team’s ace, and Whitlock is the pitcher in whom I have the second most amount of confidence as a starter (should he stay in that role, of course), but it’s been Wacha who has performed as the tam’s best starter thus far. The righty has surpassed all expectations early on, pitching to a 1.38 ERA over his first five starts of the season. Now, his peripherals continue to tell a different story, as his strikeout and walk numbers are mediocre and his home run suppression isn’t really in line with his recent career (though the baseball probably has a good amount to do with that). That said, watching him pitch it’s not hard to see where the lack of hard contact is coming from. His changeup in particular has been a legitimate weapon. Regression will come at some point, but hopefully not all at once.
As mentioned, the pitching plans here for Sunday are still not clear. Cease, who we just discussed above, would be the guy if they stay on line. If they decide to skip over Keuchel, however, we could get a look at former Red Sox prospect Michael Kopech, who was part of the package that went to Chicago in the Chris Sale deal. Finally healthy, Kopech is not throwing a ton of innings with 23 over five starts, but he’s been effective in his limited role. So far this season he’s got a 1.17 ERA, striking out exactly a batter per inning. That said, his control is a little bit worse than we’re used to seeing from him, and he’s yet to allow a home run, which seems unsustainable.
Yoán Moncada was the other major piece to go back in that aforementioned Sale trade. He hasn’t quite turned into the perennial All-Star and MVP candidate that it looked like he may be when he first signed with the Red Sox, but he’s a very solid regular for the White Sox and should be for years to come.
Michael Kopech, as mentioned above, was part of the Sale trade. His potential is still sky-high, but health has kept him from getting his career off the ground. Now in his age-26 season, he’s only got 106 2⁄3 innings under his belt, mostly out of the bullpen where he spent most of 2021.
Joe Kelly was a potential Red Sox target this past winter but ended up in Chicago instead. Currently, though, he’s on the injured list and has yet to throw a pitch this season.
Notable Position Players
Luis Robert is the most talented player on this White Sox team and has the looks of a guy who can be a future MVP candidate, and in fact he played to that level last season when healthy. He’s not going to draw a ton of walks, but he makes loud contact and is a great athlete on the bases and in the field.
José Abreu was the AL MVP in the shortened 2020 season and is the prototypical run producer for the middle of a contending lineup. The power hasn’t quite been there yet this season, but his approach is still sound and the hard contact will presumably come.
Tim Anderson is a fun player to watch if you like action. He doesn’t walk, but also doesn’t strike out, and hits a ton of line drives before using his speed to make things happen on the bases. He’s been their best player so far this season.
Yasmani Grandal is a fun player to watch if you like the modern three true outcomes baseball. He strikes out a lot, but makes up for it with power and walks and also is one of the game’s best pitch framers. He’s off to a rough start, though, with a 58 wRC+.
AJ Pollock was apparently a Red Sox target for a time this winter but ended up being traded to the White Sox. He’s only played in 12 games this year, but it’s been a brutal start with a 27 wRC+.
Liam Hendriks is one of the best and most consistent relievers in baseball, and his 3.97 ERA and 3.45 FIP to start this season qualifies as a very slow start for him.
Kendall Graveman was another bullpen addition for the White Sox this winter and he’s off to a stellar start with both his ERA and FIP under 2.00.
Aaron Bummer is the top lefty in this bullpen, and while he can miss bats at an elite rate he also loses the zone a lot and can be beaten with proper patience.
Moncada is dealing with an oblique issue and has been rehabbing, but he’s expected to come back on Monday, right after this series.
Kelly, meanwhile, is also likely to just miss this series, working his way back from a biceps injury with his expected return next week, possibly also on Monday.
Lance Lynn underwent knee surgery in April, but he’s progressed well and could be back this month.
Eloy Jiménez underwent surgery for his hamstring last week, and he’s going to be out of this lineup until at least late June.
Andrew Vaughn was hit by a pitch early in the week and was placed on the injured list, keeping him out of this series.
Garrett Crochet underwent Tommy John right around the start of the season, which will keep him out all season.
Yermín Mercedes fractured a bone in his hand, and while his timeline has him returning relatively soon, it’s not expected to be this weekend.
Jonathan Stiever is on the 60-day injured list with a lat injury, with an unclear timeline for his return.
It’s not going to be a particularly warm weekend at Fenway, but the Red Sox shouldn’t have trouble getting any of these three games in against Chicago.