Monday, June 15, 2015

Next Up: The Chicago White Sox

Remember how the Pirates started their recent west coast trip against the Padres, a team that had made a flurry of offseason moves and had, to date, disappointed? Today they start a four-game series (two in Pittsburgh followed by two in Chicago) against the American League analogue, the Chicago White Sox.

How Are They Doing Lately? Over the winter, the White Sox added free agent left fielder Melky Cabrera, 1B-DH Adam LaRoche, catcher Geovany Soto, utility player Emilio Bonifacio, and relievers David Robertson and Zach Duke, and traded for starting pitcher (and pending free agent) Jeff Samardzija. Following a 73-89 fourth place finish in 2014, pretty much everyone expected the White Sox to improve in 2015, possibly contending for a wild card or, perhaps, the American League Central title. Instead, they're 28-33, in last place, seven games behind the Royals and 5.5 games out of the wild card. At their current pace, they're headed to a 74-88 season, not quite the improvement over 2014 that people were expecting. Over the last 30 days, they're 13-16, the fifth-worst record in the American League. To date, they've scored the second-fewest runs in the league, 3.6 per game, and given up the third most, 4.5 per game.

What's Going Right? The rotation's been pretty good of late, with a third-best-in-the-league 3.51 ERA over the past 30 days. They've gotten a lot of strikeouts (22% of opposing batters, second most in the league) while keeping the ball in the park (0.7 homers per game, second fewest).  

What's Going Wrong? The bullpen's got a 4.52 ERA over the past 30 days, the worst in the American League. The offense has been bad over the last 30 days: .230 batting average (third worst in the league), .281 on base percentage (second worst), .343 slugging percentage (second worst).  

Who's Hot? Fortunately for the Pirates, they won't face the White Sox's ace, Chris Sale, who's been ridiculous over his last six starts: 1.39 ERA, 68 strikeouts and nine walks over the last 45.1 innings, The White Sox haven't announced their starter Thursday, but it could be Samardzija, who's pitched better than his 4.89 ERA over the past 30 days. The Bucs will face rookie Carlos Rodon, who's compiled a 1.11 ERA over four starts in the past 30 days. Reliever Jake Petricka has emerged as the club's eighth inning reliever, with a 2.61 ERA over the past 30 days and eleven strikeouts and one unintentional walk over 10.1 innings. First baseman Jose Abreu has led White Sox hitters in just about everything over the last 30 days, with a .284/.324/.520 slash line, six homers, 20 RBI. 

Who's Not? The two free agent relievers have had a rough 30 days, as Duke's got a 6.75 ERA and Robertson's blown two saves (while getting six). The White Sox's starter Wednesday, John Danks, has a 5.20 ERA over the past month. White Sox second baseman have been unbelievably bad this year--.203 batting average and only five extra base hits, all doubles, so far--and current incumbent Carlos Sanchez is batting .128/.198/.167 over the past 30 days. Catcher Tyler Flowers has been barely better: .182/.217/.303.

What's the Outlook? The Pirates enter the series on a four-game winning streak, and they're missing the White Sox's ace starter. But let's keep in mind that those wins came against the two teams with the worst records in the majors, and they've scored only nine runs over their past six games. The White Sox aren't very good, but they have OK starters, so the Pirates' success will probably hinge on the bats getting going.

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