One day remains before the Astros and White Sox meet in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. As part of the preview for the upcoming five-game series with the AL Central champions, I had the opportunity to chat with Brett Ballantini, editor-in-chief of South Side Sox, SB Nation’s White Sox site.
Who is the one player the White Sox cannot do without?
BB: The one player the White Sox cannot do without is Yasmani Grandal. In part, that’s due to his overall excellence in handling the staff, leadership as a teammate, and his unique production value at the plate. To the latter point, White Sox fans are so unfamiliar with a high OBP guy with almost agonizing patience at the plate they revert to distributing and redistributing the Moneyball meme on social media like, 15,000 times a typical White Sox game when Yaz walks.
But really, I don’t have to tell you that the White Sox have a high volume of very valuable, star players. What makes Grandal indispensable is that the White Sox have almost literally no one to catch behind him. Zack Collins and Seby Zavala are both severely limited players, and if you wonder why I’m mentioning two backups when only one is likely on the postseason roster, it’s because I’m not sure the White Sox even know who to choose.
Collins was demoted after the All-Star break, because, I don’t know, he’s not a catcher? Zavala came up and had a unicorn of a three-homer game, but also got very strangely bawled out by Tony La Russa in the dugout for his defensive play/understanding of the rules/play-calling. Zavala was demoted in September for Collins not because of merit, but due to the fact that keeping Collins down in Triple-A any longer would have needlessly burned an option for him.
The call here is Zavala, a legit catcher, will back up in the playoffs. But the real call is Yasmani Grandal to catch every pitch the White Sox throw, including all warmups.
When he was right, Carlos Rodón might have been the White Sox’ best starter this year. Do you think the Sox can win it all without him at 100%?
BB: I mean, can they? Sure. They COULD win the World Series with me on the roster as 26th man, because I won’t do any more damage to the club than Dallas Keuchel or Reynaldo López will, and they are almost assuredly on the playoff roster, eating chipotle sunflower seeds and sipping Red Bull.
But realistically, the White Sox need Rodón to give them five innings for the one turn he takes each series this postseason. (I suppose if he gets enough B-12 injections he can pencil in as the No. 3 and get two turns in a seven-game series, but that won’t apply vs. Houston.) With the luxury of Michael Kopech as a long man (or surprise starter in case of someone getting “food poisoning,” perhaps?) the White Sox could still find success with Rodón just going three or four innings.
But then that’s another two arms sort of burned for a series, when already we have Kid Keuchy and ReyLo doing custodian duty, and can La Russa really give the ball to Liam Hendriks for like eight outs every game? I suppose Liam would say yes.
Short answer: It will be hard to do so without Rodón at 100%. But Rodón is undeniably not 100%, so that fungo’s already been launched.
I’d imagine that Rodón was the most improved player in 2021. Was there one player in particular who disappointed?
BB: Rodón 1000% was most improved, biggest surprise, and when healthy the ace of the staff (sorry, Lance Lynn). Disappointment? Can I say OUTFIELDER HEALTH, because pretty much every Sox player who roamed the pasture almost literally died and was resurrected this season.
Or maybe HAMSTRING HEALTH, because every White Sox player strained a hamstring this season, some twice, a few three times, and even 78% of the Sox Park vendors have self-reported hamstring injuries, a statistic that is absolutely true and available to the public if you file a FOI request with (White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf.
But the real answer, sort of a cheat because he’s a deadline acquisition, is César Hernández. Gold Glover that is playing like he’s barehanded. Power hitter who hit like 45 homers for Cleveland pre-trade and then hit two or something in Chicago. Upon acquisition fans were like, cool, cheap option to pick up for 2022, too, and now they’re like uh dunno Danny Mendick looks like a badass in eye black, let’s give him another shot next year.
It seems Craig Kimbrel has not exactly been himself since coming to the South Side. Are there any dependability concerns going into the postseason?
BB: Aside from the Cubbie Stink Craig Kimbrel brought over with him from the north side — memo to the White Sox, next crosstown trade you gotta use the professional grade delouser and get into all the crevices, otherwise that stuff just doesn’t come out — Kimbrel has been a victim of regression, bad luck, and peculiar use.
There was no way he was going to strike out every batter this season, and while I’m too lazy to look it up I believe with the Cubs this season — OK, I just looked it up, my hunch was right — Kimbrel struck out every batter he faced. So he was due for a dip.
He’s been a victim of some fluky plays, including at least one homer allowed that was a clown ball that ended up in a basket at Wrigley or something and really shouldn’t count against his ERA. And then, La Russa managing by his gut rather than the radar gun didn’t help; Kimbrel is no longer a wild-man closer, but a country gentleman short man; his velocity just isn’t there with heavy use, and he needs to be managed with more nuance than just IT’S THE 8TH INNING CRAIG TAKE THE BALL.
Used wisely, Kimbrel will be a positive factor. But the wise use is up to Tony.
Which player — hitter or pitcher — do you think is primed to have a great postseason?
BB: Luis Robert is gonna hurt someone one day. Wait, who am I kidding, he hasn’t even played a full season yet but he’s broken countless hearts already with his dashing good looks, devotion to Domino’s, defensive derring-do, and moon shot homers.
He’s a five-tool player and has been a beast since his return from injury. He might actually put a ball on the Dan Ryan Expressway one day. If there is any justice in this cold, hard world, White Sox fans will be revert to wailing PLEASE PANTERA DON’T HURT ’EM as Luis powers the South Siders to a Blackout Game sweep.
Which team do you think advances to the ALCS?
BB: With due respect to my Houston friends, including one Andrew Johnson Black of Spring, who in 1990 drove up from college in Fort Worth with me to see a final couple of games at my beloved old Comiskey Park, and former roommate Bradley Todd Toland of San Antonio, I think truly more a pigskin guy but still claims a Stros affiliation, and all of you dear Crawfish Boxes readers, with whom I am now very fast and lifelong friends, the White Sox will win this series, with mere modesty forcing me to extend the series to four games.
I’d like to thank Brett for taking the time to lend his perspective.