White Sox season preview: Outfielders

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White Sox season preview: Outfielders

Every day this week leading up to Friday's Opening Day contest against Texas (1 p.m., Comcast SportsNet), we'll be previewing a different unit of the White Sox. Today, we look at the extremely volatile outfield on the South Side. Be sure to check out yesterday's preview of the infield, too.

There's no unit on the White Sox that could be more boom-or-bust than the team's trio of starting outfielders. All three have the potential to put together solid offensive seasons that would be invaluable to supporting the Sox pitching staff. And while the Sox do have good outfield depth, one or two things going the wrong way would be a detriment to the team's playoff hopes.

Let's start in left field with Dayan Viciedo, who wallowed through the first four weeks of spring training before coming on strong as of late. On March 25, Viciedo's OPS fell to .288 -- but since then, the 23-year-old has been on a tear, collecting six hits (two of which were home runs) with two walks and four strikeouts.

Buddy Bell mentioned that Viciedo may have been taking his defensive struggles to the plate, contributing to his paltry spring numbers. He's going to be a work in progress as a left fielder this year, so his ability to separate his defense from his offense will be key in getting him back on track.

A 20-homer season out of Viciedo would be a nice boost to the Sox lineup -- ideally, he'll be hitting fifth behind Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko at some point this season. But if his offensive issues persist into the season, the absence of his power from the batting order could be a major problem.

Alejandro De Aza won't be as dynamic as he was during his 54-game stint with the Sox last year: a .329.400.529 slash line would give the Sox the second coming of Ken Griffey Jr. in center. De Aza is good, but he's not that good.

The key for De Aza will be to stay off the disabled list. Four years ago, it looked like he was going to assume the starting center field role for the Marlins before he suffered a devastating injury late in spring training. The soon-to-be 28-year-old has quite a bit of talent, both offensive and defensively, and if he's healthy expect for that talent to translate into quality production from the leadoff spot.

Alex Rios, though, is the real wild card here. He's had a handful of good months since joining the White Sox in 2009 surrounded by a sea of bad stretches, and last year posted the worst offensive season of his career. While Rios, overall, was fine in 2010, he's struggled in two of the last three seasons.

At 31, time is running out for Rios to prove his recent struggles aren't a trend. He didn't have a good spring training, hitting .224.266.293 with three walks, eight strikeouts and two extra-base hits. But that was just spring training, and if he's as comfortable in his stance as he and the White Sox have intimated, hopefully good results are ahead.

If they're not, though, Rios could begin to see his playing time dwindle in favor of Kosuke Fukudome or Brent Lillibridge. Fukudome would probably be the first option, although Lillibridge certainly could play his way into an increased role for the second straight year.

Expect Lillibridge to take most, if not all, of the innings in left field if Viciedo needs a breather -- Fukudome hasn't played an inning of left field since coming to the United States.

And therein lies the good news: If something does go wrong, the Sox have options. Lillibridge proved to be a more-than capable backup last year and could replace Viciedo if the Sox aren't sold on his value. Fukudome has experience in both center and right and could fill in for De Aza or Rios if need be.

Of course, the best scenario involves Viciedo, De Aza and Rios all being effective. But if one of them isn't, it may not completely doom the Sox chances.

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

Preview: Chris Sale starts for White Sox against Rays tonight on CSN+

The White Sox take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN+. Coverage begins with White Sox Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Tonight’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (16-9, 3.19 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (1-1, 6.16 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.

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James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields gets first win in two months as White Sox beat Rays

James Shields’ time with the White Sox has not gone well. But Monday night was one of the bright spots, and it came against his former team.

Shields allowed just one run in his six innings of work against the visiting Tampa Ray Bays — with whom he spent the first seven seasons of his career — and earned his first win since July 26 as the White Sox opened this four-game set with a 7-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

Shields didn’t exactly keep the Rays off the bases Monday, running into jams with multiple base runners on in four of his six innings. But he did keep them off the scoreboard, for the most part, getting some help from his defense with a couple double plays. He finished allowing just one run on seven hits with six strikeouts over his six innings.

The win was his first in two months after a brutal August — six starts with four losses and an 11.42 ERA — and a couple of rough outings in September. It was Shields’ sixth victory on the season and fourth since joining the White Sox compared to 18 losses on the season, 11 coming with the White Sox.

“I had a few chances my last few starts to get some wins, but sometimes those things happen,” Shields said. “I’m just trying to finish the season strong right now. Body feels good, arm feels good, so hopefully I can get another win on Saturday to end my season and move into next year.”

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With just one more start on his schedule in the season’s final week, Shields won’t lose a visually upsetting 20 games. Avoiding that number might not make losing 18 or 19 much easier for fans and observers to swallow, but teammates understand what Shields has gone through this season.

“I think we’ve all been through it once or maybe even twice in our career. He works his butt off, though,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “He looks at film. He watches everything he’s doing. To come out with the strong outing today, even in the first inning, getting two runners on and getting out of that jam, it goes to show you his resilience. Whenever he got runners on, he looked relaxed and induced a lot of ground balls which we needed.”

Certainly Shields’ teammates picked him up Monday. The two double plays while he was in the game were just half the infield’s total on the night, two more coming in the seventh and eighth, when Tommy Kahnle and Nate Jones put the first two hitters they faced on in each frame. But the double plays helped end those threats and keep the Rays down.

The White Sox struck first with a run in the first inning, Melky Cabrera scoring on Justin Morneau’s sacrifice fly. After the Rays tied it up in the fourth with an RBI single, the White Sox punched back, Frazier doubling, stealing third base and scoring on Omar Narvaez’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of that inning.

And as Shields and the relief corps danced out of jams, the White Sox added to their score. Jose Abreu singled in a run in the fifth, but it was a pair of two-run homers off the bats of Morneau and Carlos Sanchez in the seventh and eighth innings that provided the real insurance.

The win was the third straight for the White Sox, something that while positive won’t provide much solace in a season where competing for a playoff spot is a distant memory.

But, like Shields finishing his season strong, White Sox players in general can create individual momentum for each of their offseasons and into next year with good finishes to 2016.

“We want to end on a positive note,” Frazier said. “Everybody wants to meet their goals. Baseball is the most individualistic team sport there is. You have to have your individual goals just like your team goals, and our team goals are out the door right now. You don’t want to play for yourself, but at the same time play for your pitcher a little bit and help him out.”