Twins Daily: Will the White Sox push the Twins in the AL Central this year?

Twins Daily digs into how good the White Sox might be in 2020.
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Luis Arraez

The White Sox had a very strong offseason, ranking third in free agent spending and improving immensely an already tough team to play against. But do the Twins really have a lot to worry about when facing the South Siders this year?

Last week, Matt Braun showed us how good the Indians still are. Alongside Cleveland, Chicago was the only other AL Central team to win a series against Minnesota (they won two) in 2019, on their way to a 72-89 record. Have they become somewhat of a threat for the Twins and the Indians in the race for the division crown? Some of their fans sure think so.

To help the rotation, Chicago signed veteran lefties Gio González and Dallas Keuchel. In part, this was likely done to help mentor their rising star Lucas Giolito and probably to also mentor their other young starting pitchers, Reynaldo López, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech. While González and Keuchel are still good pitchers and might very well push them closer to a wild card spot, they might not have been the best choice to help dethrone the Twins.

Minnesota punished left-handed pitching all year long, ranking first in AVG (.285), SLG (.521) and OPS (.872) and second in wOBA (.361) and wRC+ (126). Also, no team hit more home runs (95) nor had a lower ground ball rate (39.4%) against them. It’s hard to imagine that a nearly unchanged lineup will suddenly have a different outcome.

Gonzalez turns 35 in September and last year he spent a considerable amount of time dealing with injuries, which cut his season short. He logged only 87 1/3 innings in 17 starts and while his ERA and most of his peripherals improved in comparison to 2018, they were still worse than his career averages (except for his ERA). He started two games against Minnesota last year and he couldn’t pitch past the fifth inning in either. He combined for 8 1/3 innings, allowing four home runs and nine earned runs, leading to a 9.72 ERA.

Keuchel just turned 32 and seems to be in better shape, but his track record against current Twins hitters isn’t brilliant. His slash line against them, according to ESPN, is .287/.357/.485 (.842). That includes the earlier years of the careers of Mitch Garver, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario, who matured considerably since last facing him. But that’s not even the worst part.

As Twins Daily’s own Ted Schwerzler pointed out on his Twitter account, the White Sox infield defense may cause Keuchel and his 60.1% ground ball rate a lot of problems.

With the departure of their Gold Glove-winning second baseman Yolmer Sánchez to the Giants, things look even worse on that front. He was, by far, their best infield defender, being worth 11 DRS in 2019. Newly acquired designated hitter Edwin Encarnación, who can play first base when needed, also has a below average defense at first, being worth -1 DRS in 2019.

Their outfield was the fourth worst in the majors in DRS (defensive runs saved), with -39. Their only addition there was Nomar Mazara, who came to Chicago in a trade with the Rangers. But he doesn’t represent a great improvement on defense, as he was worth -4 DRS in the outfield last year. So Keuchel and his 4.72 FIP in 2019 might encounter troubles along the way, especially against the Twins.

Offensively, the White Sox surely improved their lineup considerably. They solved their DH issue by bringing Encarnación and also did a great job by replacing Ryan Cordell with Nomar Mazara in the right field. All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal will not only be an enormous help to the pitching staff, but also a great fit for their lineup. The already good core of Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez and veteran Jose Abreu now looks stronger. However, I believe this lineup still doesn’t have what it takes to top the Twins’ pitching staff on a regular basis. Besides, even if they do, there’s a great chance Minnesota’s lineup will out-slug their pitching staff even more often.

The White Sox are in great position to have their first winning season in ten years. Perhaps even reach the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. But it doesn’t look like 2020 is the year they’re going to outperform both Minnesota and Cleveland for the AL Central throne.

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