The Nationals are home this week to face the hot-starting White Sox in a three-game set. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Dan Haren will face Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, and Dylan Axelrod respectively. The Nats are now a game and a half back of the 6-1 Atlanta Braves, and although it is early in the season, games in April count for just as much as games in September, and it’s never a good time to fall behind in the division. The Nats are also certainly looking to rebound from a series where they were outscored 27-10.
In order to introduce Nats fans to the White Sox, an AL team many may not know about, I did a Q&A session with Matt Adams from FanSided’s White Sox site, Southside Showdown. I also answered a few questions for him, so check over there to see my take on the Nats for him!
AF: Chris Sale is obviously one of the most talented young pitchers in the game, finishing sixth in the Cy Young vote in his first year as a full-time starter. But since he pitched 121 more major league innings in 2012 than in 2011, is there any concern about his health or durability? What are your thoughts on his starts being stretched out at the end of last season to minimize his innings load?
MA: I think the largest concern of his ability to handle the workload is behind us. He said going into the 2012 season that he aimed to throw 200 innings, a statement I found laughable at the time, and he finished with 192 which is closer than I imagined. He did tail off a bit towards the end of the season, but the Sox did an excellent job of managing his workload by skipping occasional starts and making sure he wasn’t going too deep into games unnecessarily. A practice I’m sure can be appreciated by a fan base that saw their best pitcher watch their team play in the playoffs from the bench.
AF: When people think about the White Sox, the players who immediately jump to mind are Sale, Jake Peavy, Paul Konerko, and Adam Dunn. Who is one White Sox player not on the national radar who deserves more attention?
MA: Dayan Viciedo is a player that has a chance to be a serious star. Watching him hit can be a thing of beauty as he’s got immense power to all fields and he’s only 24 years old. Last season he frustrated a bit more than he impressed with skills, though. His platoon split was laughable, delivering an OPS of 1.033 against LHP and just .650 against RHP. If he can make the adjustment and be competitive against same-handed pitching, watch out. He’s yet to face a lefty so far this year, so our old pal Gio will be the first.
AF: Your manager, Robin Ventura, is widely known as one of the quietest and most stoic managers in the game, in sharp contrast to the effusive, explosive, and fiery style of his predecessor, Ozzie Guillen. What are the differences in their managerial styles, apart from their mannerisms, and how have the attitudes of the teams they’ve managed been different?
MA: It’s probably that contrast in demeanor that caused the organization to bring him in to manage, and after the circus that was Ozzie Guillen it’s been refreshing. As far as the action between the lines, he calls a game similarly to most every manager in the game, adhering largely to “conventional wisdom”. He seems less committed to the philosophy of playing-time-through-loyalty than Ozzie, which is also nice. Meritocracy keeps teams from batting a guy like Mark Kotsay at DH in the 3-hole for extended periods of time. I think 2012 was a learning experience for him, though, and expect (hope) to see some changes in his approach as far as lineups, bullpen management, and game play. The players love him, and are comfortable playing for him, which is probably the most important part of the equation. Otherwise you or I could manage.
AF: Many expected the White Sox to finish last in the AL Central last year, but instead they shocked everyone and finished just three games back of the division champion Detroit Tigers. What was the key to the team’s success last year, and how can they keep their momentum to make a run at a division title in 2013?
MA: Bounce back seasons from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios were a big part of that. After the 2011’s that they put up, they couldn’t be counted on for much, if anything going in. Chris Sale was an unknown commodity in terms of being a starter and Jake Peavy was yet to prove that he could stay healthy for an extended period of time. A lot of things that we hoped would happen did with those players, and when you factor in Alejandro De Aza’s solid presence at the top of the order and A.J. Pierzynski’s new power stroke, it was nearly the recipe for a division title.