Sep 1, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez (10) slides past the tag of Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) and steals second base during the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Red Sox stumble into the South Side


Look out Chicago, the defending world champions are rolling into town. The Red Sox and White Sox will kick off a three-game series on Tuesday at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

The White Sox finished last season with an abysmal record, coming in last in the American League Central with a 63-99 mark. Against the Red Sox last season, the South Siders posted a 2-4 record. They also posted a 37-44 record at home in 2013. The White Sox are manned by Robin Ventura, who is in his third full year at the helm of Rick Hahn’s club. Ventura carries a 155-184 record in his third year in Chicago and finished in third place for the 2012 Manager of the Year Award.

The White Sox are led by young ace Chris Sale. The left hander posted an 11-14 record to go along with a 3.04 ERA in a 2013 campaign which saw him finish fifth in American League Cy Young award voting. The 25-year-old has kicked off 2014 with a bang, going 3-0 with a 2.66 ERA in three games started. The Red Sox will face Sale in the final game of the series.

On the offensive side, Chicago underwent almost a complete overhaul this winter. Jose Abreu was signed out of Cuba to man first base and give the lineup a much-needed boost. At the same time, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson were acquired from the Diamondbacks to inject some youth into a largely aging roster. Eaton plays a great center field and is one of Chicago’s prime table-setters at the top of the lineup.

The pitching match ups in this series are intriguing as Boston will face rookie Erik Johnson (0-1, 9.58 ERA), former ace John Danks (1-0, 4.15 ERA) and current ace Sale (3-0, 2.66 ERA) in the three games. In return, Boston will send Jake Peavy (0-0, 2.13 ERA), Clay Buchholz (0-1, 6.97 ERA) and Jon Lester (1-2, 2.57 ERA) to the hill.

In order to get a better feel for this series coming in, I got in touch with Stephen Forsha, editor of SouthSide Showdown, FanSided’s White Sox blog, and picked his brain on the state of South Side baseball.

Harry Burnham (HB): The White Sox finished last in the AL Central last year, so what would you say are some realistic expectations (standings or otherwise) for this team in 2014?

Stephen Forsha (SF): Before the start of the season I thought the White Sox would finish fourth in the AL Central. I’ve been more than surprised with the way they have been hitting the baseball this season, but the pitching, except for a select few, has been disappointing to say the least.

The bullpen hasn’t been able to keep leads, at least in most games, as they have a 7.83 ERA before Sunday’s games. I have liked the play of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks this season, but the rest of the rotation has been lackluster.  As for the bullpen, the most reliable pitcher has been Maikel Cleto.
(HB): The Jose Abreu signing is looking really special right now, and it marked a significant change in philosophy/strategy for Rick Hahn and Co. Do you like that move? Or was it too much risk for a guy who may not be able to figure it out in the long run?

(SF): 
If you saw the White Sox much last season you would have seen quickly this team really needed to make some moves this past offseason, and no risk was too big because when a team loses 99 games in a season something has to be done.

As for the Abreu signing, I liked it when it happened, and he’s been a surprise thus far, because I figured it would be a little longer before he would have two multi-home run games. He’s been getting early (and in my opinion too early) comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and other big-time sluggers in the game.

It will take time for Abreu to get to that level, if ever, but I would say all baseball fans will know who Jose Abreu is before the 2014 season is over.

(HB): Personally, I think that the White Sox got the best (long-term) end of last year’s trade deadline deal. Garcia has some major potential. But he’s just torn his labrum, how big of an effect does that injury have on the team as a whole? Is there any way to replace that value in the outfield?

(SF): When I first heard the news of Garcia’s injury, I cringed a little, because he was starting to get things in order. It hurts the White Sox because they lose a power bat, and just by how he was injured, they lose a player who played with a lot of energy, which is something the White Sox have lacked recently.
Taking his spot for most games will be Dayan Viciedo, who is a good player in his own right, but the White Sox will really miss him in all aspects of the game.

(HB):
Chris Sale is probably shortlisted for the Cy Young award, and Abreu is hitting well, but what is the biggest worry for the White Sox this season, their Achilles Heel, if you will? And what is the least worrisome side of the game for Chicago?

(SF): As I mentioned earlier, the bullpen really worries me, and whenever they enter the game (except for a select few) the sweat starts rolling and I become a bit nervous.

The least worrisome part of the team, so far, is their defense. In the AL they are near the top in most categories, and those big numbers won’t last all season, I can see the offense keeping them in games this season. It will be up to the pitching to catch up with this offense.

(HB): The Red Sox are scuffling a little bit in this young season, and Chicago sits at .500 while I write this, so what are the keys to the series if the White Sox want to walk out with the “W?” What do they need to do to keep the Red Sox out of the win column?

What the White Sox have to do to beat the Red Sox is not allow the top part of the Red Sox’s lineup to get ahead of the count and don’t give the Red Sox extra chances, because you can’t give the defending World Series champions extra opportunities.

Every time the White Sox have done that this season, it has hurt them.

(HB): The Chicago farm system is a little bare right now. In the Majors, I really like Abreu, Eaton, and Garcia and I think Davidson and Semien are interesting if inexperienced; on the pitching side, Sale is obviously a stud and Quintana and Johnson are intriguing young arms. But how do you feel about the state of the Farm going forward? Is there enough talent to keep Chicago afloat as their Major League roster ages?

(SF): One player to keep an eye out for is Micah Johnson of Double-A Birmingham Barons. Through nine games this season he’s batting .314 with two home runs and three RBIs. He also has a double and triple entering Sunday’s game.

Plus the White Sox will add another top prospect this summer as they have the No. 3 pick in the draft.
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Keys to the series: For the Red Sox to come out on top in this one, it looks like they’re going to need to hit the ball well. Boston’s offense has been struggling of late, and a resurgence will be key. Boston will need to focus on knocking Chicago’s starters out of the game early and feasting on a shaky bullpen. On the pitching side of things, Red Sox pitchers will need to focus on not giving Jose Abreu anything to hit and keeping Adam Eaton off the basepaths. Adam Dunn also possesses legitimate power, so working around those guys will be key.
All three games kick off a 7:10 pm CST on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
For what it is worth, Stephen and I both predicted that our respective teams would go 1-2 in this three game set.

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