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.

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland not satisfied despite strong outing in White Sox loss

Derek Holland turned in one of his best starts of the season on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the White Sox had nothing to show for it after a 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon.

In six innings, Holland allowed four hits, one earned run, and two walks while recording six strikeouts. He was charged with his only run in the seventh, when he allowed a single to Yonder Alonso, who came around to score after Holland had been pulled from the game.

Despite his confidence in the bullpen, which has been one of the White Sox biggest strengths this season, Holland would like to see himself go deeper into the games.

“I should be getting into the 7th and not having 110 pitches,” Holland said. “The bullpen's done a great job of picking us up in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The starters, and really pointing more to myself, we need to...I need to go out there and go longer."

Entering Sunday, three of Holland’s last four starts had been the worst outings of the season – allowing 22 earned runs over those four games. Despite the team’s 5-3 loss, Holland felt his outing was a step in the right direction.

“I felt good about everything out there,” Holland said. “(Omar Narvaez) and I were right on the same page. There were just a couple of things that got away from us. Just one of those things. Defense made the plays for us when they needed to, unfortunately we just didn't come out on top."

Manager Rick Renteria also had high praise for the 30-year-old southpaw, who bounced back from one of his shortest outings of the season.

“I thought Holland, hopefully what's not lost is Holland's outing today was really, really good,” Renteria said. “He kept us in the ballgame. They've got some kids that can swing the bat. They were putting things together. All we were trying to do at the end was minimize any damage they could produce. We weren't able to.”

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tough luck for Tommy Kahnle as White Sox blow lead, get swept by A’s

Tommy Kahnle has been one of the White Sox brightest bright spots, but fell victim to some tough luck that could ding on his under-the-radar All-Star bid.

Kahnle allowed the tying and go-ahead runs in the White Sox 5-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics Sunday in front of 28,089 at Guaranteed Rate Field, marking only the sixth time in 31 games the 27-year-old right-hander has allowed a run in 2017.

In the eighth inning, Kahnle allowed a broken bat single to Franklin Barreto, then Ryon Healy reached on a Todd Frazier error. Khris Davis tied the game with a single to left, knocking Kahnle out of the game, and Oakland took the lead when Yonder Alonso blooped a single off David Robertson that plopped into left field out of the reach of Melky Cabrera. Consider the hit probabilities, according to Statcast, of those three hits and the error:

Barreto: 78 percent
Healy: 5 percent
Davis: 62 percent
Alonso: 2 percent

That Kahnle coughed up the lead was surprising given his stealthy success leading a strong back end of the White Sox bullpen this year. The White Sox, prior to Sunday's defeat, were 28-0 when leading after seven innings. 

"Our bullpen's doing a great (job), it really is," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think you can't take away from what they've been doing for us all year long. We've been going to them a lot."

On that improbable Alonso bloop single, Cabrera was shifted more toward center field. 

"He was actually playing a little more to the pull side than he was to the line," Renteria said. "I don't think he was going to be able to get to it, regardless of the effort he might have given us. These guys are all a little fatigued, they're a little tired right now. They're giving you what they've got right now."

Entering Sunday’s game, Kahnle’s 1.2 WAR was sixth-best American League relievers, behind Boston’s Craig Kimbrel (2.2), Houston’s Chris Devenski (1.6), Cleveland’s Andrew Miller (1.6), Los Angeles’ Blake Parker (1.4) and Toronto’s Roberto Osuna (1.3). His 44.8 strikeout percentage is among the five best in baseball along with Kimbrel, New York’s Dellin Betances, Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen and Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel.

Kahnle has been undoubtedly spectacular this year even with Sunday’s hiccup, though with Garcia seeming likely to be on the American League All-Star roster, Terry Francona wouldn’t have to take him to fill the game’s requirement. That this year’s All-Star Game doesn’t count — it’s the first since 2002 that won’t dictate home-field advantage in the World Series — could alter Francona’s roster construction to reward more starters and closers, and the Cleveland Indians manager would certainly be justified if he wanted to take his own setup guy in Miller.

The White Sox handed Kahnle the lead on Adam Engel’s first career home run (a solo shot in the third) and Jose Abreu’s dash home on a passed ball in the fourth. Starter Derek Holland was solid, allowing one run on four hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings. Melky Cabrera added a solo home run in the ninth inning, his eighth of the season.

Adam Rosales and Matt Joyce homered off Robertson and Chris Beck, respectively, in the ninth inning to give the A’s a comfortable ending to their three-game sweep of the White Sox. Beck was hit by a comebacker after allowing that home run and left the game with a bruised left hamstring, and is considered day-to-day.