The playoffs begin for the Chicago White Sox Thursday in Houston. The Sox will open up their postseason with a best-of-five matchup with the favored Astros. They will send Lance Lynn to the mound against fellow right-hander Lance McCullers, Jr. The series looks to be a matchup of two very good teams, and promises to feature some solid pitching from both teams. However, hitting obviously will be critical, as the team that can generate early runs could find itself in the driver’s seat. In that light, if the White Sox are to pull off the minor upset here, young sluggers Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez are key to the White Sox playoff hopes.
Youngsters In The Spotlight
The White Sox have one of the best lineups in all of MLB, especially in the top six spots. Veterans Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal have been key hitters throughout the season. As the White Sox enter the playoffs, Grandal is one of the hottest hitters in baseball, while Abreu has struggled to find a consistent stroke lately. Still, Sox fans are hoping that they will come up big in the postseason. Meanwhile, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada have had their moments in 2021, with Anderson finishing above .300 for the third year in a row. Moncada has been a solid on-base hitter, but his power numbers could be better. Maybe Moncada will find his stroke just in time to help the Sox in the quest for a World Series appearance. Time will tell.
That leaves us with Robert and Jimenez, two up-and-coming stars. Interesting each of them has overcome serious injuries that sidelined them for significant periods of time. Jimenez injured his shoulder late in spring training and did not play until late July. Robert suffered a hip-flexor injury in early May and was out until early August. So, their overall numbers do not tell the story of their performance in the 2021 season. Both Robert and Jimenez contributed heavily to the White Sox success, making the young sluggers prime candidates for October stardom.
Luis Robert: Superstar In The Making
From the day he signed with the Pale Hose, the expectations have been exceedingly high for Luis Robert. He has been projected to be a five-tool player, and maybe even be one of the elite players in the game. His growth has been stunted by injuries, yet his talent has been obvious since he made his MLB debut in the 2020 season. After winning a Gold Glove in his rookie year, he compiled a slash line of .338/.378/.567. He also re-discovered his power stroke late in the season, making him even more dangerous.
While Robert has not reached his full potential yet, he has been red hot the last few weeks. He cut down on his strikeouts and finished with an OPS+ of 155. At this point, it would be fair to say that Robert is the White Sox best hitter. This is in spite of the fact that he has only played a total of 124 games at the MLB level. There is no reason to expect him to stop hitting as the playoffs begin. Hitting in the second hole makes him a valuable piece in the Sox lineup, and they will need him to stay hot if they are to stay with the Astros.
Eloy Jimenez: Finding His Stroke Again
Jimenez burst onto the MLB scene in 2019 amidst much fanfare, especially on the South Side. He put together a solid rookie season but showed just what he is capable of in 2020. He slashed .296/.332/.559 and won a Silver Slugger award. While he will never challenge for a Gold Glove, his hitting was elite and promised to be even better in the years ahead. Jimenez was a budding superstar, with a virtually unlimited ability to hit baseballs hard and far.
Jimenez only appeared in 55 games in 2021, due to his injury. When he returned in late July, it appeared as if he hadn’t missed a beat. He got off to a hot start, mashing baseballs all over the field. He found himself in the cleanup spot, where he provided solid protection for Abreu. Unfortunately, he began slumping in late August and has yet to fully regain his smooth stroke. He enters the postseason still struggling for consistency at the plate. If he fails to put things together against the Astros, the Sox will have a higher hill to climb. They need Eloy hitting.
Why Robert And Jimenez Are So Important
As we mentioned earlier, the White Sox have a deep lineup and should be able to score some runs. They will hope that Anderson can stay hot, and Abreu and Grandal will drive in some runs. Moncada is capable of being a difference-maker and can break out at any time. Certainly, the Sox can reasonably expect these four to do some damage against the Astros.
However, we contend that Robert and Jimenez will be the keys to the Sox postseason offensive production. Robert will likely be batting second, helping to set the table for the big boppers. he is also capable of hitting some home runs of his own. He is the key to the whole lineup, and, if he can stay hot, the Astros could be in for a whole lot of trouble.
Jimenez, meanwhile, can be devastating when he is going well. If he gets hot, he will offer more protection for Grandal, and perhaps be the key to a big inning. However, he must find his rhythm quickly, or the Sox may find themselves in a challenging spot. They need Jimenez to hit, both for average and for power. If he can do that, the White Sox could be an offensive powerhouse.
The Chicago White Sox enter the postseason with high hopes, and with good reason. Their pitching is capable of shutting down anybody, and that is crucial to winning in October. However, they expect to score runs against the Astros, and Robert and Jimenez will be critical in that effort. Robert has to stay hot, and Jimenez must figure out how to break out of his slump. If both of these young stars come through, the rest of MLB is in for a battle.
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