Series Preview: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox

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The Indians open May with their first trip to the City of Broad Shoulders to face the Chicago White Sox in the second series of the season against their division foes.

The Tribe’s (11-9) first series against the Southsiders (11-11) in Cleveland ended with two losses and a snowed out game as Chicago winning 4-2 and 10-6 with Chris Sale dominating one game and the always lovable A.J. Pierzynski having a fine day at the plate in the other. But it’s a new series, the weather is warmer and the Indians offense is waking up, so it is sure to be three days of fun.

The White Sox have been a bit of a surprise, considering Baseball Prospectus projected them to lose 90 games in 2012. The key to all this is Adam Dunn. The Big Donkey had a horrendous season last year—by some metrics the worst offensive season ever. But this year he’s back to his old ways—the ways that earned him a $60 million contract two winters ago. Already this season he has five homers and is getting on base at a .352 clip. He’s clearly on his way back to being a premier three-true-outcomes hitter and one of the most dangerous bats in the league.

Another key to their breakout has been Alex Rios. Rios has never really lived up to the expectations brought on by his paycheck, but he’s posting an .824 OPS and has seven extra-base hits while playing a fine outfield. Oh yeah, and Paul Konerko is still on this team. Konerko is a killer against the Indians, with an .848 OPS and 43 homers in his career against Cleveland, along with a seemingly preternatural ability to always be up with the game on the line.

Other than these guys, you have the always nebulous Aleexi Ramirez, who has been horrid this season (36 OPS+) yet always seems to come up with big hits against the Tribe (10 homers in 69 career games, most against any team); the lovingly swing-happy Gordon Beckham and his fading potential; and an outfield including Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo. Viciedo has tremendous power but contact problems (.206 batting average and .217 OBP), and De Aza has good  speed but on-base issues (.323 OBP). Even so, it was De Aza whose power showed up the last time these teams faced off, with two of his three 2012 homers coming in those two games. It’s not the prettiest lineup, but the White Sox just seem to pull offense out of a hat against the Indians.

Meanwhile, the haven’t homered in 11 games. Perhaps it’s where they’ve been playing—Seattle, Oakland, and a chilly Progressive Field—but the cozy confines of U.S. Cellular could cure that. Shin-Soo Choo will be back from a hamsting issue, which will get Aaron Cunningham out of the lineup and some pressure off Carlos Santana, Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis Hafner. Johnny Damon will be joining the team in Chicago, though he isn’t expected to start until Friday. They walked 101 times in April to lead the majors. Six of their nine starters have an OPS+ over 110 (along with Choo, who is at 101 due to a slow start), but those extra-base hits have to come. They have room to grow offensively, last year’s individual performances told us that, and maybe the Tribe’s bats will heat up along with the weather as calendar flips to May.