The Chicago White Sox are virtually a lock for postseason play in 2021. Even though they have played around .500 baseball since the all-star break, the South Siders hold a double-digit lead over second-place Cleveland and are seemingly looking ahead to October. With that in mind, now is a good time for fans and pundits to ask this question: how should the White Sox playoff roster look? Or, perhaps more correctly, who is in and who is out for the White Sox come playoff time?
While most of the 26-man roster would appear to be set already, who knows if manager Tony La Russa has some surprises up his sleeve? Is it possible that a bench player could play himself onto or off the playoff roster? No doubt fans will question the last few spots, but that is what baseball is all about. We will make our best predictions as to who the 26 men will be. One caveat though: we are going with 14 position players and 12 pitchers for the first round. The Sox will only need four starters, and an eight-man bullpen should be enough to get the job done. One other point: this assumes that everybody is healthy and available.
Starting pitching has been the strength of the White Sox in 2021. If they are to make a deep run in the playoffs, the Sox will need the starters to come through in a big way. Here are the four pitchers who will be starting:
Lance Lynn (R)
Lucas Giolito (R)
Carlos Rodon (L)
Dylan Cease (R)
This list would come as a surprise to some who have not been following the White Sox this year. After all, Dallas Keuchel was brought in prior to the 2020 season to add stability to a young rotation. Keuchel did well in the shortened 2020 season. However, he has struggled over the last two months, while Cease seems to be getting better and better as the season goes on. While La Russa may prefer the veteran over the young pitcher, it would be a travesty to start Keuchel over Cease at this point.
Lynn has had an outstanding season in his first year with the Sox. Giolito had a bit of a slow start in 2021 but has been pitching very well of late. Rodon, who was non-tendered by the Sox in the offseason, signed a one-year deal and has been sensational. Cease rounds out a foursome that could make the Sox a formidable foe in the playoffs. If these starters bring their “A” games to October, look out American League!
We have allotted eight spots here, as an additional position player adds more value than the ninth reliever in a short series. While the last couple spots are debatable, here are the eight relievers La Russa should carry into the playoffs:
Liam Hendriks (R)
Craig Kimbrel (R)
Ryan Tepera (R)
Michael Kopech (R)
Aaron Bummer (L)
Garret Crochet (L)
Reynaldo Lopez (R)
Dallas Keuchel (L)
Kimbrel and Hendriks should fill in the back end of the bullpen, with Kimbrel pitching the eighth and Hendriks closing out games. Tepera, Kopech, Bummer, and Crochet offer La Russa four options to serve as the bridge in a given game. They bring righty and lefty options, which can be invaluable in October. If the starters can give La Russa six innings, this bullpen should be able to finish off the last three.
As for Lopez and Keuchel, they should serve as the long relievers, should a starter fail early. Lopez has had a bit of a renaissance since his return from Charlotte and could be a real weapon if needed. He has been throwing a lot of strikes, and La Russa won’t hesitate to use him in a pinch. Keuchel, on the other hand, would likely be a last resort type of pitcher (Sorry, Dallas). Hopefully, the starters will avoid the disastrous start that would necessitate the use of either Lopez or Keuchel. However, La Russa should, and will be prepared for everything.
The starters are obvious, and we will add a catcher to this group. Barring injury, the starting infield will be: Yoan Moncada (3B), Tim Anderson (SS), Cesar Hernandez (2B) and Jose Abreu (1B). Additionally, Yasmani Grandal will be behind the plate. As far as backups go, surely Seby Zavala will be the catcher. Leury Garcia, the Sox super-utility man, will be ready to go if Moncada, Anderson, or Hernandez are unable for some reason. These seven players are locks to be on the roster, with their roles well-defined.
There may be some flexibility here, but, we will do our best to lay it all out for you. The most likely scenario will have Eloy Jimenez in left field, and Luis Robert in center field. As far as right field goes, the starter could be any of three players, in our view. It will be either Andrew Vaughn, Brian Goodwin, or Adam Engel in right field. Of course, Vaughn could also play left field with Jimenez acting as the designated hitter. La Russa might also play a healthy Engel against lefties, although that seems somewhat unlikely. We are going to add to this mix veteran Billy Hamilton, a defensive specialist who can also steal a base in the clutch. We have six players in this group.
The Final Spot
No matter who fans may want to see, there will no doubt be much debate about who should be the 14th position player on the playoff roster. Heck, if La Russa goes with 13 pitchers, the 13th spot will become the center of intense discussions. Nonetheless, we are projecting 14 position players and 12 pitchers when the playoffs start. With that in mind, here is how we see it all playing out.
The infield is set, and it seems the outfield pieces all fit somewhere. One could argue that Hamilton does not belong, and that is a fair argument. However, we like what he brings to the late innings, and believe that he will make the playoff roster. The question is who will be the designated hitter, and it will likely be more than one player. There will likely be a rotation of players involving Jimenez, Vaughn, and Goodwin. Jimenez may not play outfield every game, and Goodwin will likely not hit against lefties.
With that said, we think that the right man for the final spot is rookie Gavin Sheets. He is a lefty bat with big-time power, and that is something the White Sox could use in a pinch. Yes, he is a largely unproven rookie, but he is the logical choice for the final spot. He can play first base and right field, although he will never win a Gold Glove. He will be on the bench for his bat and not his glove. We give him the edge over utility player Danny Mendick, largely because Garcia plays the infield better and is just a better player than Menidck. So, give the nod to Sheets.
We have Lynn, Giolito, Rodon, and Cease in the rotation, with Hendriks, Kimbrel, Tepera, Kopech, Bummer, Crochet, Lopez, and Keuchel in the bullpen. Our projected position players are Moncada, Anderson, Hernandez, Abreu, Grandal, Jimenez, Robert, Vaughn, Sheets, Garcia, Goodwin, Engel, Hamilton, and Zavala. We will see what La Russa decides to do, but this roster of players is one that can do some serious damage when the playoffs begin. October can’t come soon enough!
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images