After a successful 4-2 homestand to start the season, the White Sox will take to the road for the first time in 2013. Their first stop will be Washington to take on the Nasty Nats, a team many have picked to represent the National League in the World Series.
President Obama Sneakily Representing his hometown White Sox, via ChicagoSide
This will also be the first interleague series for the Sox under the new scheduling system, so we better get used to trips to National League parks spread throughout the season.
The Nationals and White Sox both come into the series at 4-2 on the young season. Both teams have good depth at starting pitching. It should be a good series against one of the premier teams in the National League.
The opener of the series on Tuesday night will be a dandy as Jake Peavy (1-0, 1.50 ERA) takes on former White Sox prospect Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 0.00 ERA).
Gonzalez is in his second season with the Nats after coming over in a trade from Oakland before last season. In his first season in the National League, Gonzalez put it all together winning a league best 21 games with a 2.89 ERA, and led the league in strikeouts per 9 innings. He also finished third in the Cy Young Award voting. Hard to believe the White Sox traded him not once but twice!
In his first and only start of 2013 Gio went 6 innings allowing no runs on 2 hits, striking out 5 and walking 2 batters in a win over the offensively challenged Miami Marlins.
Lifetime the White Sox have handled him pretty well. In five starts against the Sox Gonzalez is 0-4 with a 5.86 ERA. He has allowed 27 hits, 5 home runs and 22 walks in 27.2 innings of work. His K/BB ratio of 1.09 against the Sox is his lowest against any team. The bad news is that all of these appearances came earlier in his career when he was with the A’s.
No current member of the White Sox has had much success against Gio Gonzalez. Alexei Ramirez (3-11, 3BBs) has the best numbers. Paul Konerko (.083, 4 K’s) has really struggled against him.
The Sox will counter with Jake Peavy who is off to a pretty good start of his own, going 6 innings allowing 2 runs (1 ER) on 4 hits and striking out 6 in a win over Kansas City. Peavy has made 10 starts against the Nationals, going back to his time with the Padres. In those 10 starts Jake is 4-4 with a 3.39 ERA. He also has 2 complete game shutouts against Washington. He has struck out 72 Nats hitters against just 17 walks in 69 innings.
Of current Nats players Adam LaRoche (.364, 2 HRs) and our old pal Denard Span (.294, 4 2Bs) have had the most success against Peavy while Ryan Zimmerman (.200, 9Ks) and Jason Werth (.154, 7 K’s) have had their troubles with the Jakemeister.
Wednesday night’s game will feature Gavin Floyd (0-1, 3.00 ERA) and Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 1.50 ERA) on the bump.
Zimmermann is coming off his best year in the big leagues where he went 12-8 with a 2.94 ERA in 32 starts. He also threw a career high 195.2 innings last year. It’s quite a luxury the Nats have to be able to stick a 26-year-old coming into his prime in the third spot in the rotation.
In his first start this season Zimmermann went 6 innings allowing 1 run while scattering 8 hits, while walking 2 and striking out one in a win over Miami. Don’t let the low strikeout numbers in that first start fool you, while not overpowering, Zimmermann has averaged about 7 K/9 innings over his career.
The White Sox have seen Zimmermann once before and it did not go well for the Pale Hose. Zimmermann held the Sox scoreless on 6 hits over 7 innings allowing just 1 walk and striking out 4 in a no decision back in 2011. Alex Rios has the most at bats against Zimmermann and is 2-for-6 (.333). Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez and Connor Gillaspie are all 1-for-3 off the 26-year-old right hander.
Opposing Zimmermann will be Gavin Floyd, who is off to a very Floydian start this season. Floyd had a decent looking pitching line (6 IP, 4 hits, 3 runs, 2 ER, 1BB, 5Ks) but was unable to overcome the 5th inning syndrome that has plagued some of the Sox starters early in the season. Overall it was not a bad start, De Aza’s error cost him a run but he kept the team in the game. The offense however was once again shut down by Jeremy Guthrie and the Sox lost 3-1.
This will be Floyd’s fourth start (sixth appearance) against Washington. He is 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA in 27 innings pitched against the Nats, with his last appearance against them coming in 2010. Leading the charge for the Nationals against Gavin will be Denard Span who is hitting .486 with 4 doubles against Floyd. Other than Span Adam LaRoche (2-for-8, HR) is the only Nats player with multiple hits off Floyd. Kurt Suzuki (1-for-10, 3 Ks) and Ryan Zimmerman (1-for-6, 2 Ks) are the only other players with more than 3 plate appearances against Floyd.
The Finale of the Sox first interleague matchup on Thursday night will feature Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 0.00 ERA) against Dan Haren (0-1, 13.50 ERA).
Dan Haren is no stranger to the White Sox having played six year in the American League with the A’s and the Angels. The Nats signed the 32-year-old right hander in the offseason with the hopes of adding a veteran presence to an otherwise young starting rotation. Haren’s first Nationals start was one to forget about as he allowed 6 runs on 9 hits over 4 innings in a loss to the Reds, who would win the game 15-0.
The really scary number for Haren was that he allowed four home runs. For his career Haren allows a little over one homer per nine innings. He has made 6 starts against the Sox in his career going 2-1 with a 3.53 ERA. However he has allowed 42 hits to Sox hitters in 35.2 innings of work. Paul Konerko (.368, HR), Alex Rios (.300, HR) and Jeff Keppinger (.500, HR) have all had success against Haren while Adam Dunn (.167, 7Ks) and Gordon Beckham (0-for-7, 2 Ks) have struggled.
The Sox chose to switch up the rotation and moved Dylan Axelrod up to pitch in Washington, while dropping Jose Quintana back a day to pitch the opener in Cleveland. While no one is going to confuse Axelrod with Cy Young, he did exactly what the White Sox needed him to do in his first start. He allowed just 1 unearned run over 5.2 innings against the Mariners in a game the Sox would go on to win.
I don’t think there were many Sox fans complaining about his start. This will be his first time facing the Nationals and just his second start against the National League. He will also be making his first Major League plate appearance, so we can all look forward to the Axelrod power show. No current members of the Nationals have faced Axelrod before so he might have an advantage, at least the first time through the order.
Keys to the Series
The Nats, like the White Sox, have not gotten off to a great start at the plate. Their team batting average is at .224 and several of their key hitters (Desmond, Espinosa, LaRoche) are hitting below .200 to start the year. However Bryce Harper, the Nats 20-year-old phenom and reigning Rookie of the Year is off to a white hot start hitting .360 with 3 home runs. It will be important for the White Sox not to let Harper kill them in this series. Take your chances with other batters and keep guys off base in front of him.
This will be a challenge with the newest Nat and noted pain in the Sox side Denard Span (.324 lifetime against Sox) batting in the leadoff spot.
The White Sox have already committed seven errors on the season, the most in the AL. This is year after committing just 70 errors, the fewest in the AL. The seven errors this season have already led to four unearned runs, and before Sunday’s game the Sox had allowed an unearned run in four consecutive games. Last year the White Sox allowed just 30 unearned runs all season.
While I don’t expect this trend to continue it is obviously not good. In addition to the errors the White Sox have also had trouble communicating on pop ups and have had a number of collisions between fielders. So far none of these run-ins has yielded a drop but it is not a good sign at all.
Pitching and defense are key for the Sox, especially in National League parks with no DH. I am sure Robin will have them taking extra infield before Tuesday’s game.
Set the Table
The top of the White Sox order is off to a brutal start. De Aza (.167) and Keppinger (.048) have not done a good job of getting on base in front of Rios, Dunn and Konerko. On top of the poor batting averages, those two have struck out 8 times and have yet to draw a walk.
Going to a National League park the Sox are going to lose an important slugger, likely Dunn or Viciedo. As a result they will need to find ways to manufacture some more runs and that is really tough to do when your first two hitters are not getting on base. I was really excited coming into this season with the thought of the Sox having a legit leadoff hitter with a typical number two hitter behind him.
So far it has not worked out. The Sox offense won’t truly start to click until De Aza and Keppinger snap out of their early slumps.
This is going to be a tough series for the White Sox. The Nationals are a very well put together team. In addition to solid starting pitching and a nice lineup top to bottom the Nats also have a very good bullpen with the offseason addition of Rafael Soriano.
As I mentioned before it’s also tough for the Sox to play in the National League ballpark because they cannot use the DH and thus lose and important offensive piece. In the Sox favor though, they have some pretty good pitchers of their own. I think this will be a tough series for the Sox and I think with the matchups the way they are that the Nats will likely take two out of three.
I just don’t see the Sox scoring enough runs off the Nats talented pitching staff the way they have been swinging the bats to start the season.
Maybe they get lucky and First Fan President Obama can have Bryce Harper detained for questioning for a couple days until the Sox leave town.