We’ve definitely seen this movie before: There’s a team with a very good offense, a pretty good rotation and a bullpen that’s sneaky-good, but they just can’t seem to get past their typical foes in the first round of the playoffs.
Yes, that’s the story of the 2019 Minnesota Twins. But if you subtract the last part, you could easily be talking about the 2020 Chicago White Sox as well.
It goes beyond the eerily-similar starts — both teams were 31-16 through 47 games — the ’19 Twins and this year’s White Sox have exhibited really good offensive play, but have gotten better pitching than expected. Sure, the teams have been constructed and/or anchored a bit differently. Chicago looked to replicate Nelson Cruz‘s production with a gray-haired slugger of their own, but Edwin Encarnacion hasn’t exactly proven to be up to that task.
Still, the team has gotten super-star level play from two-thirds of its outfield and its starting shortstop, and they have seen thier first baseman turn back the hands of time while driving in seemingly every runner on when he comes to the plate. And they’ve got a pretty good commander calling things behind the plate in Yasmani Grandal.
The Twins were also stout behind the plate, but had their production a bit more spread out as well. All nine players who saw the most action at each position on the diamond posted an OPS+ of 100 or better. So too did Luis Arraez, Jason Castro, Ehire Adrianza and Jake Cave, with Marwin Gonzalez (95) not that far off, either.
Chicago’s timeshare behind the plate has been similarly productive — Grandal with a 116 OPS+ coming into Tuesday, James McCann with a 146 — but they have a few more have-nots in their lineup in the form of Danny Mendick, Nomar Mazara and the aforementioned Encarnacion. However, each of those guys has started to lose playing time to capable subs, and in the case of Mendick, a stellar prospect in Nick Madrigal.
In short, the White Sox offense is damn good.
Through 47 games, they have a 120 wRC+ — third in baseball.
Through 47 games, the Twins had a 117 wRC+ in 2019 — second in baseball.
The Twins hit a few more homers and struck out a little less, but the White Sox have still managed to ride the wave of a .327 BABIP to where they were entering play Tuesday. Minnesota, by comparison, had a BABIP of .290. Nevertheless, one doesn’t need to squint too much to see the similarities here.
On the rotation side, the White Sox have slightly better raw numbers than the Twins did a year ago through 47 games. The White Sox have a 3.29 ERA/3.94 FIP split, while the Twins were at 3.66/4.22. However, when factoring in the run environment from the 2019 season, things are fairly equal to this point.
- 2019 Twins through 47 games: 4.9 fWAR from their rotation
- 2020 White Sox through 47 games: 4.7 fWAR from their rotation
There are some other fun similarities as well. The Twins carried an ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- split of 78/92/98 last season; the White Sox are at 75/87/94 — again, very similar. Of course, the path to these results hasn’t been exactly the same, though to expect that in any shape when making a comparison like this seems fairly foolish.
Lucas Giolito is Chicago’s Jose Berrios from a year ago, not so much in terms of statistics but in terms of role. Beyond that, there were some question marks on both sides. Jake Odorizzi took a massive step forward in 2019, and Dallas Keuchel looks a lot more like his 2018 self than his 2019 version. The White Sox don’t really have a Michael Pineda this year — that is, a dependable, well-above-average innings eater — but they supplement that aptly with the emergence of youngsters Dane Dunning, who shut down the Twins on Tuesday night, and Dylan Cease.
Some of what Cease is doing defies logic in terms of peripheral statistics, but a lot of that could have been said about Randy Dobnak a year ago — or even now. They don’t necessarily have a Kyle Gibson or Martin Perez, but Reynaldo Lopez has been every bit as enigmatic in far less time. Gio Gonzalez could be thrown in that mix, as well.
The battle of the bullpens is very close as well. The White Sox would appear to have a slight edge, as they’ve accumulated 2.4 fWAR in 184.1 innings to the Twins’ 2.0, but Minnesota did so in just 144.1 innings last year. That’s an important distinction because teams have had to rely on relievers more this season than last due to the weird Summer Camp ramp-up session.
In other words, the bullpens are very similar. Chicago has its Taylor Rogers–Tyler Duffey–Trevor May trifecta in Alex Colome, Matt Foster and Evan Marshall. And they have similarly intriguing arms down the line much like the Twins did with Cody Stashak and Zack Littell in the forms of Codi Heuer and Jace Fry. Even Ross Detwiler has gotten into the mix in his age-34 season with 17.1 innings of 1.56 ERA ball.
Maybe he’s their Sergio Romo? (Probably not.)
Still, even the raw numbers are fairly similar. Chicago’s 3.71 ERA/3.80 FIP compares favorably to Minnesota’s 4.18/3.94, but again it’s by the slightest of margins and can be supplemented with a higher strikeout rate for Twins relievers as well as a higher BABIP to normalize — .314 for the Twins, .287 for the White Sox.
Look, no two teams are ever going to be exactly the same. But still, it’s almost eerie how many similarities there are between the 2019 Twins and the 2020 White Sox. And Twins fans are hoping the White Sox suffer a similar first-round fate in the 2020 playoffs.
Time will tell. For now, they’re running away with this thing.