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Series Preview 12: Angels at White Sox

The White Sox return to Chicago for a brief three game home stand against the Angels over the weekend.  The Sox just concluded a 4-4 road trip that with a few breaks could have been a 6-2 road trip.

The Angels just lost two out of three to the lowly Astros in Houston and have dropped five of their last seven games and are 12-22 on the season, nine games back of the division leading Rangers.  Not exactly what the Angels had in mind after an expensive off-season that included the signing of Josh Hamilton.

Pitching Matchups

The Sox will throw Dylan Axelrod (0-2, 3.60 ERA) in game one on Friday night against Barry Enright (0-1, 9.00 ERA).  Tommy Hanson was scheduled to start for the Angels but left the club due to a death in the family. 

Enright will be the 9th different pitcher to start a game for the Angels already this year, already one more than they used all of last season.  It will be his first Major League start since 2011.  On the season Enright has appeared in two games in relief and thrown a total of three innings.

The White Sox have never faced Enright and only Adam Dunn (2-for-6, double) and Casper Wells (1-for-1, HR) have seen him before.

For the Sox Axelrod is looking to get into the win column for the first time this year.  He has been the victim of some tough luck and lack of run support (shocker) so far.  He has been credited with a quality start in each of his last four outings and is coming off arguably his best start of the season against the Royals where he went 7.2 innings and allowed just 2 runs but took the loss as the Sox were shut out by Jeremy Guthrie.

Axelrod has been very good at home this season posting a 2.04 ERA with a 0.849 WHIP in 3 starts at US Cellular Field.  Opponents have hit just .161 against him at home.  This will be Axe’s first career appearance against the Angels and only Josh Hamilton (2-for-3, HR) has faced him before.

Saturday night’s game will see Jose Quintana (2-0, 3.86 ERA) face off with Jerome Williams (1-1, 3.16 ERA).

For Williams it will be his second start of the season for the depleted Angels pitching staff.  In his first start against Baltimore he allowed 5 runs on 4 hits (2 HRs) over 4.1 innings and took the loss.  He had been pitching very well in relief before being moved into the rotation, posting a 1.69 ERA in 21.1 innings of work in 8 games and held batters to a .203 average.  In his career Williams has fared pretty well against the Sox sporting a 1-0 record with a 2.76 ERA in 4 games (2 starts).

Adam Dunn (6-for-18, HR) and Paul Konerko (4-for-8) have fared pretty well against Williams.  No other Sox player has more than one hit off Jerome and Casper Wells, Alex Rios and Jeff Keppinger are a combined 0-for-10 against him.

Quintana will be looking to bounce back from a couple of mediocre outings.  He hasn’t worked deeper than five innings in any of his last three starts and has allowed ten runs over that span after allowing five runs in his first three starts.  Despite a 2-0 record and a solid ERA, the White Sox have lost four of the six games that Quintana has started for them this year.

The Cell has not been kind to Quintana this season; in his two home starts he has allowed 7 runs on 12 hits in 9 innings.  Q made one start against the Angels last year and took the loss.  He allowed 4 runs (1 ER) on 6 hits in 5 innings.  He also walked five batters in that start, a season high for him.

The Angels hit .316 against him in that game but had only one extra base hit.  Alberto Callaspo, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick each have one hit apiece off Quintana.

The finale of the series and the short home stand will be Sunday evening as Chris Sale (3-2, 3.42 ERA) and CJ Wilson (3-1, 3.86 ERA) face off on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

Wilson has provided some level of stability to an otherwise unstable rotation.  While he has not been great, he has been solid for the Angels.  He has allowed 3 earned runs or fewer in 6 of his 7 starts.  His last time out was his first loss of the season and produced a very odd stat line.

He went 6.1 innings and allowed 7 runs, but just 2 earned, on 7 hits and struck out 12 batters.  While Wilson has been striking out plenty of hitters (9.4/9 innings) what has really given him problems are the walks.

He is walking just over 5 batters per 9 innings this year, his highest total since 2008 and a full 1.3 more than his career average coming into this season.  It would behoove the Sox to be patient and let Wilson work himself into some trouble.  In his career against the Sox Wilson is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 13 appearances (3 starts).  Casper Wells (4-for-9, 2 HRs), Alexei Ramirez (4-for-11) and Alex Rios (4-for-12) have had the most success against CJ. 

Chris Sale is coming off an impressive no decision against the Royals in the makeup game on Monday.  He went 7.1 innings allowing just 1 run on 6 hits, struck out 5 and didn’t walk anyone.  He kept the Sox in the game and they were eventually able to win 2-1 and avoid the sweep at the hands of the Royals.  Sale has worked at least 7 innings in each of his last 4 starts and held opposing hitters to a .196 batting average over that span.

After getting blown up in Washington back in April, Sale has been very much the top of the rotation pitcher the Sox have needed him to be.  At home Sale is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 3 starts and held opponents to a .208 batting average.

He is 1-0 with a 1.23 ERA against the Angels lifetime in 3 games (1 start) and has allowed just 5 hits over 7.1 innings and struck out 9 Angels batters.  Mark Trumbo is 3-for-3 with a double against Sale while no other Angel hitter has more than one hit.

Keys to the Series

Momentum

While it might not seem like it, the White Sox actually played OK on that road trip and started and finished it by winning two out of three.  The starting pitching was phenomenal, especially in the last three games allowing just 2 earned runs over 21 innings.

The other good news is that the Sox bats have perked up a little with runners in scoring position.  They have hit .284 (21-74) with RISP over the last 12 games.  While far from spectacular it is moving in the right direction.  Combine that with the Angels recent struggles and you can see why this could be a good series for the Sox.

Tank’s Back

The White Sox offense will get some much needed pop injected into it with the return of Dayan Viciedo off the disabled list.  While Tank wasn’t off to a great start, he heated up last May and had a great month hitting .351 with 8 home runs and 24 RBI, his highest totals of any month.

We all know the Sox offense is predicated on power and home runs and adding Viciedo’s bat back into the lineup will only help.  Viciedo has also fared well against the Angels, hitting .278 with 3 home runs in 11 career games.  If he can heat up in May like last year, the Sox offense will be much more dangerous.

Struggling Angels

When you think of a Mike Scioscia managed team you think of solid fundamental baseball.  Good pitching, clean fielding and pesky base running are hallmarks of the Angels over Scioscia’s tenure.

This year’s team however, possesses none of those traits.  The Angels rank 13th in team ERA (4.66), 14th in fielding percentage (.980), 1st in errors (27) and 14th in stolen bases (12) among 15 AL teams.  If you think the White Sox have been bad, the Angels have been worse AND they aren’t getting the pitching.

This team has really struggled under the expectations this year and Scioscia is on the hot seat as a result.  Hawk likes to say “it doesn’t matter who you play it’s when you play them,” well this is the best time to play the Angels.


Outlook

The Sox might actually be turning the corner.  The pitching has been solid, the bats are slightly more alive than they were a couple weeks ago and they are starting to get healthier.

This could be a huge series for the Sox if they can get a win before they head off on the road again to face the Twins and the Angels in LA.  There are some winnable series coming up after that including the Marlins and Cubs so if the Sox can start playing good ball, they could turn their season around much like they did last year at this time.

I think the Sox can take two out of three.  There I said it.  Now go out there with The Will To Win and Make an Impact!

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