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Legit Contenders

It has been a while since the White Sox have been in the conversation about possible playoff teams, but 2020 seems to be the year they put it all together, finally, for fans. With the season at the halfway point, I wanted to speak with the, In My Opinion, American League, baseball insider, Tom Barnicle, and get his thoughts on the state of things on the South side, and what we can expect going forward.

I was able to rouse him from another Bacardi induced coma, and surprisingly, he was able to put together some cognitive sentences. Here is an edited version of our conversation.

In My Opinion: Tom. Tom. Wake-up, and put some pants on for god's sakes.

Tom Barnicle: Humpf. Wha? How did you get in here?

IMO: Time to answer some questions, starting with, are the White Sox for real?

TB: I think the Sox are definitely for real. I think this past weekend with the Cubs proved they can hang with the better teams in the league. And yes, as a Sox fan I can admit that the Cubs are one of the better teams in the league. The Sox have a young team and they are building confidence with every series. Tim Anderson is proving last season wasn’t a fluke, and Jose Abreu is not only hot right now, he’s becoming a leader in the clubhouse.

IMO: Can they maintain, and steal, a wild card spot?

TB: I think they will be a wild card team and it will hardly be a steal. They are just about half way through the season and currently have a 1.5 game lead for the last spot and look as if they can maintain that.  Their lineup is strong from top to bottom and some guys have not hit a groove yet.  Edwin Encarnacion is yet to start hitting, but based on his history, he’s bound to come around. The same with Yasmani Grandal. The starting pitching has been just ok, but the relievers have been solid.  They’ve had some injuries that have hurt, such as Leury Garcia and Nick Madrigal,  but guys like Danny Mendick have stepped up and filled in nicely.

IMO: If you're not going to put on your pants can you at least throw a towel over yourself? Do they have the pitching depth, for starters and relievers, and who will be the key guy for each group?

TB: Yes, speaking of starting pitching, they do have a depth problem.  Even the White Sox own depth chart only lists four starters. Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel have been as good as advertised and Dylan Cease seems to be really coming into form. Reynaldo Lopez was hurt for a bit, and still nothing more than a number five starter, at best. Gio Gonzalez has been a nice pickup for them.  He can spot start and eat up some innings in long relief.  The bullpen has been very good.  Alex Colome is a consistent closer, 30 out of 33 in save opportunities last year and perfect so far this year. Ross Detwiler, Evan Marshall, Jace Fry and Zack Burdi have been extremely reliable.  Matt Foster has been nothing short of phenomenal. Yes, it’s only been 9 games and 13.1 innings, but he has yet to give up a run, has 17 strikeouts and a WHIP 0.53.

IMO: Will the young players be able to keep their focus?

TB: If this were a normal, 162 game season, I think staying focused would be concern.  However, like I said, we’re already pretty much at the halfway mark. These young players are getting taste of winning and seem to be having fun. There are enough veterans like Abreu, Keuchel and Grandal to help the younger players stay on track.

IMO: Is Luis Robert a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate?

TB: You know, at times Luis Robert looks like he could challenge Mike Trout as the best player in baseball. He’s got all the tools.  He plays center field like he’s Kelly Leak on the Bad News Bears.  It’s as if the right and left fielders just need to guard the lines and Robert will take care of the rest.  At the plate, he still needs to learn discipline.  When he does make contact, it’s solid contact. They guy is incredibly strong.  His exit velocities are among the league leaders, but he can be fooled on some breaking balls and look bad. He looked like he had no clue against Yu Darvish this weekend. But then again, Darvish has been dominant against everyone.  But yes, he’s a legit ROY contender. Once he learns a little patience and gets a better feel for the strike zone, I think he’s a legit candidate for MVP in future years.

IMO: How do you think Rick Renteria is handling this team? Please keep your legs together.

TB: I haven’t been a fan of Renteria this year. He seems hell-bent on platooning his right fielders and I think it has hurt the team at times. Early on when Nomar Mazara was not available he kept throwing Nicky Delmonico out there most nights. I realize Delmonico  a nice guy, and a great guy to have in the clubhouse, but he just can’t hit.  Adam Engel has shown a much improved batting eye so far this year and I believe deserves more playing time, even against right handers.  Sometimes I think with the speed of Robert and Engel in the outfield, they could play with five infielders. I know Renteria is limited with the depth of his starters, but we have already seen too many ‘bullpen games”. I know most of those guys have been solid, but that also weakens you for a couple of games after that. But the players do seem to like playing for him, so we can see how things progress.

IMO: Do you think the Sox will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline next week?

TB: I think the Sox could be buyers at the deadline, especially for a #4 or #5 starter.  This is a young team and there’s a lot of talent in the pipeline that could keep them contenders for a while. I don’t think they are World Series contenders yet, so giving up on some future talent for a shot at one pitcher would not be something they should do at this point. They shouldn’t do the equivalent of trading Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease for  Jose Quintana.  They are not at that point. If they want to see what happens to a team that fools themselves into thinking they are a contender and  will piss away young talent for mediocre veterans, just look at the Blackhawks. But I’ll leave that discussion to John Markiewicz .

IMO: Cross promoting, I love it. So who wins the Central and who will be second?

TB: I think Minnesota is definitely the team to beat in the Central. I think the Sox can give Cleveland a run for their money for second, but the Sox need to be more consistent against good teams. In order to prove they are a real contender, they have to do more against the good teams and not just beat up on teams like Kansas City and Detroit.  That being said, they are coming into a stretch where they play Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Detroit 14 out of the next 17 games, with the other three against Minnesota. I think they need to get through this these games going 11-6 or 12-5 to solidify their spot in the wild card race. They are fun to watch and I’m looking forward to the last half of this crazy season.

I think the White Sox can contend for the Central, and certainly for a wild card, this year. They are fun, exciting, talented, and maybe, the best team in Chicago?

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