What to watch: Sox go for sweep of Royals

What to watch: Sox go for sweep of Royals

April 3, 2013, 11:00 pm
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First pitch: 1:10 p.m. (Coverage begins on Comcast SportsNet with White Sox Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.)

On the mound: Gavin Floyd vs. Jeremy Guthrie

Floyd kicks off what could be his final season in Chicago -- the right-hander is set to hit free agency after this season -- against a Royals team he dominated in 2012. In two starts, Floyd pitched the White Sox to a third of their win total against Kansas City, holding the Royals to a .459 OPS and just two runs over 14 2/3 innings. Those starts are the ceiling on Floyd, flashing the ace-quality ability he can carry into any start.

Start-to-start inconsistency, though, has plagued Floyd over the last four seasons, even if his year-to-year numbers have been fairly consistent. It's that up-and-down nature that leads some to undervalue Floyd, in the estimation of White Sox GM Rick Hahn.

"It's not easy to pitch 180-200 innings, put up a slightly below-average ERA or even a league-average ERA," Hahn explained at SoxFest earlier this year. "So being in that 3.80-4.10 (range) for 180-200 innings is a solid accomplishment. If you believe the WAR metrics, he tends to be about a three-to-four win above replacement level pitcher on an annual basis. That has real value."

[More: Sale keeps emotions in check as Sox beat Royals on Opening Day]

Opposing Floyd is a newly-minted White Sox nemesis in Guthrie, who tormented the White Sox over four starts last year. A midseason pickup in a garbage-for-garbage swap (Kansas City traded Johnathan Sanchez and his 7.76 ERA to Colorado for Guthrie, who had a 6.35 ERA at the time), Guthrie posted a 0.30 ERA over 29 2/3 innings against the White Sox in 2012. Sox hitters had a .455 OPS against him and managed only 24 baserunners against the right-hander.

Whether Guthrie can translate the success of his 14 starts with Kansas City (3.16 ERA) into a full season with the Royals remains to be seen. It'll certainly be interesting to see how he fares in his first outing of 2013, facing the team against which he built a good chunk of his success last year.

Today's lineups

White Sox
De Aza CF
Keppinger 3B
Rios RF
Dunn DH
Konerko 1B
Viciedo LF
Ramirez SS
Flowers C
Beckham 2B

Royals
Gordon LF
Escobar SS
Butler DH
Moustakas 3B
Perez C
Hosmer 1B
Francouer RF
Dyson CF
Getz 2B

Today's storyline: Can Sox continue turnaround vs. Kansas City?

The White Sox dismal record against Kansas City over the last two years hasn't been lost within the team's clubhouse over the last few days. Paul Konerko said the Royals didn't need to make any big offseason moves (i.e., trading for James Shields) since Kansas City had already earned him and his teammates' respect thanks to a 13-23 mark against them in 2011 and 2012. Jake Peavy made a few references to those struggles, too, saying on Monday: "We understand that we have to play better against Kansas City to be the team we want to be."

[More: Peavy, Sox offense erase sloppy defense in win over KC]

Last year, the Sox won just six games against Kansas City. Had they went .500 against the 72-90 Royals, they would've tied Detroit atop the AL Central after 162 games.

With Detroit re-loading in the offseason and Kansas City and Cleveland making major additions, there's bound to be more competition in the AL Central in 2013 than there was last year. Having success against Kansas City is just one part of the equation, but it's an important one if the Sox hope to contend for the division crown. They're off to a good start, and can finish off their first sweep of Kansas City since the summer of 2010 this afternoon.

What else to watch for

Tyler Flowers is off to about as good of a start as he could've hoped for, blasting a home run in each of the White Sox first two games and guiding Sox pitching to plenty of success against Kansas City. As the catcher is quick to remind, though, it's just two games, but his fast start has at least temporarily muted the "where's AJ?" cacophony.

[Sox Drawer: Flowers coming up roses]

Paul Konerko tied Frank Thomas for third on the White Sox all-time hits leaderboard Wednesday, and another base knock would put him alone behind only Nellie Fox and Luke Appling. He's still about 300 hits behind Fox and 600 behind Appling, though.

Despite the caveat of being just two games into the season, it's still worth noting the White Sox bullpen hasn't allowed a run in 3 1/3 innings this year -- plenty of which came in high-leverage situations.

The last word

The White Sox have been terrorized by Alcides Escobar over the last year, as the Royals' shortstop has 33 hits in 74 at-bats against them since the start of 2012. But no matter how good Escobar has been, it doesn't compare to what ex-Sox shortstop Jose Valentin did to Kansas City a decade ago.

In 65 plate appearances spanning 15 games, the mustachioed shortstop blasted eight home runs -- including the only three-homer game by a White Sox player against the Royals in franchise history -- with 17 RBIs and a 1.399 OPS. And that success came against Kansas City's best team since 1993, for what it's worth.