Now that the regular season is over, it is time to look ahead to the culmination of another season- the playoffs. While the White Sox won the American League Central division going away, manager Tony La Russa has some decisions to make. The decisions he makes in the next few days could have a major impact on how the Sox fare in the postseason. How he uses the playoff roster is also sure to be heavily scrutinized by a fanbase that is hungry for postseason success. This article will focus on the offensive side of the team.
First of all, assuming the roster is set, we will take a look at the lineup. While our earlier prediction of who may or may not make the roster may not be perfect, that should not affect these predictions. The lineup may vary whether the Sox are facing a righty or lefty, so we will account for both possibilities. They figure to face both when they go against the Astros in the Divisional Series. So, here are some ideas as to how the lineup will look.
The Big Six
First of all, the White Sox lineup has evolved into a collection of the “Big Six,” and the others. the Big Six include their offensive mainstays, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Yasmani Grandal, and Yoan Moncada. They have been the leaders throughout the year, even though several of them spend significant time on the injured list. If the Sox and their fans expect to have any success in the postseason, the Big Six must provide a major part of their offense.
The question then is: How does La Russa line them up on Thursday in Game One of the ALDS? This may seem like a no-brainer to most South Side fans, and perhaps it will be. While La Russa has not been afraid to move some hitters around, he is not likely to make any radical changes as the postseason begins. So, we can expect the Big Six to line up like this: Anderson, Robert, Abreu, Grandal, Jimenez, and Moncada. That has generally been the lineup when all six have been available. It has been a productive lineup for the most part.
There are a couple of factors that might suggest a different arrangement here. Anderson, Abreu, and Grandal are cemented in their spots unless La Russa gets struck by a lightning bolt. The other three spots, though, merit at least some discussion, based on how each player has been performing lately. Robert could hit anywhere, as he has developed into an outstanding hitter. Wherever he is placed in the lineup, he should produce solid offensive numbers for La Russa and the Sox.
On the other hand, there are a couple of points to consider with Moncada and Jimenez. The first of these is that Moncada has struggled of late with men on base. While the reasons for this are unknown, it is a fact. Additionally, he is a solid on-base guy, and may better serve the team in the second spot. Yet, this would push Robert further down, perhaps costing him at-bats. As for Jimenez, he has seen a drop-off in his hitting over the last few weeks, costing him the clean-up spot. If he continues to struggle, he may be moved to sixth. If that were to happen, it may be wise to hit Moncada second and Robert fifth. Robert would offer Grandal protection and have more opportunities to drive in runs himself. Still, faith all that said, we expect La Russa to say with the six we outlined above.
The term “The Others” is not meant to be derogatory. However, there is no question that the final three spots in the White Sox lineup will not be counted on in the same way as the first six. Still, Sox fans hope that the bottom three can, and will produce some offense to ease the load. These final three spots are also more likely to stir up debate amongst South Side fans, as they have throughout the season. Let’s look at some possibilities.
One variation is Leury Garcia (RF), Gavin Sheets (DH), and Cesar Hernadez (2B). This seems like a probable array against right-handed pitching. La Russa would likely alter this lineup against left-handers in one of two ways. He could simply insert Andrew Vaughn in the DH spot, or he could play Adam Engel in right-field, and sit Garcia. Now, if one goes by the theory of playing the hot hand, one would be hesitant to remove Garcia. Additionally, Engel has missed significant time on the IL and is still trying to play his way back into the lineup.
Still another option (which many Sox fans love) would be to sit Hernandez and get his cold bat out of the lineup. He has an OPS of just .600 since being traded to the Sox. If La Russa goes this route, fan-favorite Garcia would play second base, with Vaughn, Sheets, or Engel in right-field. La Russa may be hesitant to pull Hernandez, as he is a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Still, his bat is not easy to hide, even in the ninth spot. We do expect that La Russa will stay with Hernandez here, but that will be unknown until the lineups are in on Thursday. For South Side fans, that cannot come soon enough.
While we have discussed various potential lineups for the White Sox when they open up the playoffs on Thursday. Now it is time for a bold prediction on just what that will be. It may seem simple, and we do not expect La Russa to do anything crazy. That said, here is our prediction:
For good measure, we will predict that there will be two changes in the lineup for Game two, against a left-hander. We will plug in Engel for Garcia, and Vaughn for Sheets. Of course, if Garcia has a big day Thursday while Hernandez struggles, that could change. For now, this is what we predict will happen. The best part about all this is that we are talking about playoff baseball on the South Side. When the home-plate umpire shouts “Play Ball!,” Sox fans are hoping that this lineup will usher in a whole new era of White Sox baseball. Let the games begin!
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