A team battered and depleted by injuries all season long heads to the postseason quite healthy. And, thanks to having a double-digit lead in the American League Central Division for most of the second half and clinching Sept. 24, the White Sox might be fresher than most of the postseason field.
“The rest is key,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “For everyone in baseball, going from 60 [games in the abbreviated 2020 season] to 162 was a big jump . . . The big lead allowed us to sort of monitor how certain guys will be used and put us in a position a few days before the start of the Division Series feeling very good about where we are from a health and a performance standpoint.”
The Sox open the best-of-five AL Division Series on Thursday in Houston. The only real question, and it’s a significant one, is left-hander Carlos Rodon, although Hahn is “optimistic that he’s going to be able to contribute over the course of the next month.’’ The first time All-Star is fighting through a sore shoulder, and while he was effective with five innings of scoreless one-hit ball Wednesday, his 90-91 mph velocity was somewhat worrisome. Rodon could get a start in Game 3 or 4 (if necessary), but he’ll be monitored before a determination is made.
Rodon has been limited to 24 starts and only six in the last two months. The Sox’ biggest injury hits came on the position-player side, with Eloy Jimenez limited to 55 games, Luis Robert to 68, Yasmani Grandal to 93 and Tim Anderson to 123.
“Given the injury issues that we had over the course of the season, we’re all awfully pleased that we sit here as healthy as we are at this point,” Hahn said. “All things considered, [Rodon’s issue is] a relatively small amount considering where we’ve been.”
Starting pitchers received extra rest in the second half. Manager Tony La Russa rested his regulars with regularity. Moreover, the Sox get three days off leading to the series.
“Having these three days off is going to be a benefit,” Hahn said.
The Sox enjoyed a day off Monday. They’ll have a closed workout at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday and an open workout Wednesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where they were swept by the AL West champion Astros in a four-game series in June. The Sox responded by winning two of three against them at home after the All-Star break.
“Houston is a fantastic team,” Hahn said. “They’re not only former world champions, they’re used to being in this environment on an annual basis. Very strong offensive club, a dynamic run-scoring team and fantastic pitching and defense. So it’s going to be a challenge.
“[But] our roster is in a stronger place than it was in our first two meetings we had with them.”
The 26-man ALDS roster doesn’t have to be set until 10 a.m. Thursday, and the Sox will wait till the last hour to publicize it. Hahn said pitching depth is of utmost importance.
However it shakes out, the Sox will feature a stronger roster than the one that lost to the Athletics in the best of three wild-card series last season.
“Luis Robert’s got more time under his belt, [Yoan] Moncada continues to grow and the growth of Dylan Cease, much less the additions of Lance Lynn and Craig [Kimbrel] and Cesar [Hernandez] and Liam [Hendriks], we are in a stronger position today than we were a year ago entering the first round of the playoffs,” Hahn said.
The Game 1 starter will be Lynn or Lucas Giolito, whom Hahn called “interchangeable.” That decision will be finalized Tuesday or Wednesday.
NOTE: Liam Hendriks was named American League Reliever of the Month for September/October. Hendriks also won the honor in June. Cubs first baseman Frank Schwindel earned National League Rookie of the Month.