Series Preview #5: White Sox @ Blue Jays

The White Sox head north of the border for a four game series with the Blue Jays to wrap up their ten game road trip.  The first six games could have gone better for the South Siders, however they did leave Cleveland with a win on Sunday snapping a five game losing streak.

The Blue Jays have also have had a tough go of it to start the season and come into the series with the same 5-7 record that the White Sox have.

After a very busy off-season and a revamped pitching staff the Jays were thought by some to be the favorites in the AL East.  Things have not quite gone to plan so far as newly acquired lead-off man Jose Reyes is out until the All Star break with a severely sprained ankle he suffered in Kansas City this past week.  In addition to the injury the revamped pitching staff hasn’t performed as expected.

This could be a big series early in the season for both of these teams.

Pitching Matchups

A familiar face will toe the rubber on Monday night for the Jays as Mark Buehrle (0-0, 10.24 ERA) will face off against his former team for the first time.  He will be opposed by former staff-mate Gavin Floyd (0-2, 5.56 ERA).

Buehrle will be facing the White Sox for the first time since leaving.  He pitched on the South Side for 12 years and ranks fourth all time in games started, sixth in wins, seventh in innings pitched and fourth in strikeouts in White Sox history.  For those who don’t remember, Buehrle followed Ozzie Guillen to South Beach and signed with the Miami Marlins before last season.

After the Marlins imploded and Ozzie was fired, Buehrle was traded to Toronto along with Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck and Josh Johnson. 

His start in Toronto has not gone as planned as he has been beaten up in his first two starts as a Blue Jay.  He has given up 12 runs (11ER) on 14 hits in 9.2 innings.  Both his starts came against AL Central teams (Cleveland and Detroit).  Despite those numbers the Blue Jays are actually 2-0 in the two games Buehrle has pitched, coming from behind both times. 

The only White Sox player to have faced Buehrle is, interestingly enough, former Blue Jay Alex Rios.  In 24 career plate appearances against Buehrle, Rios has 3 hits and 1 home run.

The Sox will send Gavin Floyd to the bump Monday night.  After a decent outing and tough luck loss the first time out, Floyd was beat up by the Nats in Washington.  He allowed 5 runs on 9 hits with 3 walks and 7 strikeouts in 5.1 innings in a loss.  This is an important start for Floyd as he is hoping to get back on track and hopefully build some confidence in the early part of the season. 

Lifetime against the Jays Floyd is 2-5 with a 5.64 ERA in 9 games (7 starts).  The Rogers Centre has been especially bad to Gavin.  In four games north of the border Floyd is 1-3 with a 7.00 ERA and a 1.667 WHIP.  The Jays are hitting .333 against him at the Rogers Centre and .283 overall.

Maicer Izturis (.333, 3 2Bs), Adam Lind (.375, HR, 6 RBI) and Melky Cabrera (.333, HR) have all had good success against Floyd.  Jose Bautista however is just 1-for-12 with 3 strikeouts against Gavin.

Tuesday night the White Sox will see another new Blue Jay starter as Josh Johnson (0-1, 11.05 ERA) takes on Dylan Axelrod (0-1, 5.79 ERA).

As mentioned above, Johnson came over with Buehrle in the off-season as part of the massive trade with the Marlins.  The former All-Star struggled through injuries in 2011 and had a decent year last year posting a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts.  Much like Buehrle however, his Blue Jays career is off to a rocky start.

After fighting through 6 innings against the Red Sox in his first outing Johnsons was lit up by the Tigers in Detroit.  He lasted just 1.1 innings and allowed 6 runs on 7 hits.  His fastball speed was down and he was not fooling anyone and the result was the Tigers hitting him all over the ballpark. 

Johnson has faced the White Sox twice before in interleague play.  He is 1-1 with a 3.72 ERA but a very high 2.172 WHIP in those two starts.  The White Sox hit an impressive .349 against Johnson, pounding out 15 hits in just 9.2 innings.  Adam Dunn has seen Johnson the most from his time in the National League.  However the Big Donkey is just 4-for-24 with a home run and 12 strikeouts against him.  Alex Rios (3-for-7, HR) is the only other Sox player with more than one hit against Johnson.

Dylan Axelrod will be looking to bounce back from his last start in Washington.  After a great first outing where he out dueled King Felix, Axelrod struggled against the powerful Nationals lineup allowing 6 runs in 3.2 innings of work.

He threw 103 pitches and walked 4 batters and was unable to get through the fourth inning.  His control was off all day and he couldn’t hit his spots when he needed to.  As a result the Nats had some very long at bats and drove the pitch count up early as Axe threw 40 pitches in the first inning.

Axelrod has made two starts against the Blue Jays going 1-1 with a 7.00 ERA and a 1.444 WHIP.  He has 10 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched against the Jays but has allowed three home runs.  Both of his previous starts were in Chicago.   Of the current Blue Jay hitters only Colby Rasmus (2-for-4, HR) and Edwin Encarnacion (1-for-2, HR) have hits off Axelrod.  Jose Bautista is 0-for-3 with 2 K’s and 2 BBs against Axe.

Wednesday night’s game will feature a pair of lefties on the mound as J.A. Happ (2-0, 3.48 ERA) takes on Jose Quintana (0-0, 4.09 ERA)

Happ was acquired by Toronto from the Astros in 2012 and made 6 starts for the Jays last season.  This will be his first full season in the American League after pitching parts of 6 years for Philadelphia and Houston.  The 30-year-old Northwestern grad has shown flashes in the past but has never been able to consistently put it all together.

He is off to a good start this year getting wins in his first two starts against the Red Sox and the Royals.  His first start against the BoSox was brilliant as he held them to just 1 hit over 5.1 innings.  His start against the Royals was not as great, as he allowed 4 runs in 5 innings.  While he has allowed just 6 hits in 10.1 innings, he has also issued 6 free passes. 

Happ has never faced the White Sox before and only Tyler Greene (5-for-11, 2 HRs), Jeff Keppinger (3-for-9, 2 2Bs), Adam Dunn (1-for-9, 3 Ks) and Alex Rios (0-for-3) have faced Happ before. 

Jose Quintana will look to build upon his last outing where he shut the Indians down on one hit over 7 innings with 7 strikeouts and no walks.  It was a very encouraging start for Quintana after a very discouraging start the first time out.  The Sox hope they will see more of the Quintana that pitched in Cleveland throughout the year.

Quintana made two starts against the Blue Jays last year going 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA.  In his one start at the Rogers Centre Quintana got the win going 6.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 8 hits with 4 strikeouts.  Rajai Davis (4-for-6) and JP Arencibia (2-for-3) had good games against Quintana last year and Jose Bautista has the lone homer against him.

The finale of the four game series and the 10 game road trip on Thursday will pit the White Sox ace Chris Sale (1-1, 5.21 ERA) against the reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey (1-2, 5.82 ERA).

Dickey came out of nowhere last year to win 20 games and the NL Cy Young award at the age of 37 for the Mets.  He came over in the off-season in a trade as part of the new look Toronto pitching staff.  After a decent first start, Dickey was knocked around his second time out by Boston but then found his form against the Royals allowing just 1 run in 6.1 innings.

He has faced the White Sox before, making 6 appearances (2 starts) and going 1-2 with a 9.61 ERA.  He has allowed 6 home runs to White Sox batters in 19.2 career innings.  Alex Rios (3-for-10, 2 HRs) and Paul Konerko (4-for-10, 2 HRs) have had success off Dickey in the past. 

Chris Sale will be another Sox pitcher looking to bounce back.  After good starts the first two times around, Sale was lit up by the Indians for a career high 8 runs allowed.  His previous high before that was five runs allowed.  Sale has also allowed 4 home runs over his last two starts.  White Sox fans hope that this was just an aberration and that Sale will return to form his next time out.

This will be the first start for Sale against the Blue Jays.  He has made 3 relief appearances against them in the past.  He is 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA against Toronto.  He has thrown 5 innings allowing 2 runs on 5 hits with 4 walks and 6 strikeouts.  The Blue Jays have hit .278 against him, however no current Jay has more than one hit.  Melky Cabrera has the only homer against Sale of the current Jays hitters. 

Keys to the Series

(Canadian) Chicks Dig the Long Ball

Look, we can all talk about how this team needs to be better at scoring runs without hitting home runs, but it just isn’t the way this team is built.  They need to hit home runs to win on most days.  The Sox are hitting .137 with runners in scoring position.

Yes, it really is that bad, your eyes have not been deceiving you.

There is no way that number can stay that low (we hope,) but while it is, you better start launching some dingers.  And hey, guess what?  The Blue Jays have allowed 14 home runs this season, fourth most in the American League.  Break out the lumber and start hitting some balls over 120 meters away.

Pitching and Defense, eh …

Since the team isn’t scoring a ton of runs, and we knew they were going to be an inconsistent offense, the Sox need to pitch and catch well.  The pitching has been decent, with a 3.83 staff ERA, but the defense has been atrocious.

The White Sox have already committed 9 errors, third most in the AL.  Those nine errors have led to 5 unearned runs, and you could argue that most of those have directly cost them a game.  When your margin for error is low, you cannot afford to give teams extra outs and free runs.

With Gordon Beckham out you lose one of your best gloves in the field so Keppinger, Gillaspie and Greene are going to have to step up and play well at a variety of different positions over the next few months.

New Look Jays

The Blue Jays certainly “won the off-season” this past winter.  However that doesn’t always translate to winning during the season, ask the Marlins (oh wait they are the Marlins).

Jose Reyes has already gotten hurt and none of the new pitchers have pitched particularly well thus far.

The Jays have a .227 team batting average and a .294 OBP (both 12 in the AL) to go along with an AL worst 5.11 team ERA.  If there was ever a time to catch a team when they are struggling this is it.  The White Sox bats didn’t really come alive against the Tribe’s poor pitching, so they better come alive now.


The Jays are struggling, but so are the White Sox.

Both of these teams need a good series to get them back on track.  I thought the Sox would snap out of it in Cleveland but unfortunately they were only able to salvage one game.

I think the carryover from that win on Sunday should help them in this series. They are facing three pitchers that have been struggling, but also guys they haven’t seen much of before.  Neither team is hitting well but the Jays pitching has been downright bad so far.

I think the Sox should be able to minimally split this series and with some luck, take three out of four games.  If nothing else it will be nice to play in a controlled environment where it’s not 40 degrees with wind blowing around.