Opposite dugout: Abreu, Sale give inconsistent White Sox two of AL’s top players

white-sox-logo.pngManager: Robin Ventura, third year
Record: 59-65
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 1B Jose Abreu (.305/.362/.596, 29 doubles, 31 HR, 89 RBIs); 3B Conor Gillaspie (.311/.363/.456, 29 doubles, 5 HR, 46 RBIs); LHP Chris Sale (10-2, 2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP); LHP Jose Quintana (6-9, 3.14 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
Season series vs. O’s: 1-2, 12 runs scored, 13 runs against

Pitching probables
Aug. 18: Chris Sale vs. Bud Norris, 8 p.m., MASN2 HD
Aug. 19: Jose Quintana vs. Chris Tillman, 8 p.m., MASN2 HD
Aug. 20: Hector Noesi vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 8 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
The Orioles face a challenge greater than what the White Sox’s record would indicate as they prepare to spend the next six days in Chicago.

Yes, the White Sox are six games under .500 and seemingly out of the playoff race. But they have one of the best sluggers in baseball leading a strong lineup and two of the American League’s top starting pitchers awaiting the Orioles at U.S. Cellular Field.

Starting with the offense, Chicago ranks sixth in the AL with 532 runs and fifth with 120 homers, a .259 average and a .724 OPS.

Much of the credit for that goes to first baseman Jose Abreu, who’s having an historic rookie season. Abreu is tied for the AL lead and ranks second in the majors with 31 homers. The 27-year-old Cuban defector is second in the majors with 89 RBIs, leads the big leagues with a .596 slugging percentage, and leads the AL while ranking second in the bigs with a .958 OPS.

The Orioles do seem to be catching him at a good time, however, since his power pace has slowed. Abreu hasn’t homered and has just six RBIs in his last 17 games. But he has still found a way to contribute, batting .339 with a .431 on-base percentage during that stretch.

Abreu isn’t alone, as the White Sox have four other regulars that have posted an OPS of at least .733 - although one of them, center fielder Adam Eaton (.771 OPS), is on the disabled list with an oblique injury.

That leaves third baseman Conor Gillaspie (.818 OPS), designated hitter Adam Dunn (.800 OPS) and shortstop Alexei Ramirez (.733 OPS) as the other key components in the lineup.

Gillaspie leads the team with a .311 average, which ranks seventh in the AL, and is tied with Abreu with a team-best 29 doubles. Dunn has 19 homers and 49 RBIs, but is batting .229.

Ramirez is a multi-talented threat with 24 doubles, 11 homers, 58 RBIs and 18 steals. Outfielder Dayan Viciedo has added 16 homers and 47 RBIs.

Overall, Chicago’s pitching stats don’t instill much fear. The White Sox rank 13th in the AL with a 4.40 team ERA and 4.39 starters’ ERA, and 14th with a 4.43 bullpen ERA.

But they throw their top two starters at the Orioles this week, both of whom rank among the AL’s best.

Let’s start with the ace, Chris Sale. The 25-year-old left-hander is 10-2, ranks second in the AL and third in the majors with a 2.01 ERA, third in the majors with a 0.89 WHIP, fourth in the majors with a .196 opponents’ batting average and fifth with 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.

Sale hasn’t allowed more than four earned runs in any of his 19 starts this season and has done so just once in his last 11, pitching to a 1.97 ERA during that time. He is three starts removed from one of his worst outings of the year, when he permitted five runs (four earned) in six innings on Aug. 1. Sale has since rebounded to hold opponents to two runs in 14 innings over his last two starts.

He’ll face right-hander Bud Norris in tonight’s series opener. Sale has had some trouble with the Orioles in his career, as his 5.28 ERA against them in eight appearances (two starts) is his second-worst for any opponent.

On Tuesday, the White Sox start left-hander Jose Quintana against right-hander Chris Tillman. Quintana might be just 6-9, but he ranks 15th in the AL with a 3.14 ERA.

Quintana ended a streak of 10 straight starts with three earned runs or fewer his last time out, when he surrendered four runs in 6 2/3 innings. But over his 10 previous starts, the 25-year-old went 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA to lower his season mark from 3.98 to 3.04.

Unlike Sale, Quintana has pitched well against the Orioles, posting a 3.28 ERA in four career starts. He held Baltimore to one run in seven innings on June 24 at Camden Yards.

In Wednesday’s series finale, right-hander Hector Noesi will face left-hander Wei-Yin Chen. Noesi is 7-8 with a 4.84 ERA in 26 games (20 starts) with three teams this season.

He allowed five runs in five innings against the Blue Jays in his last start, but that came after two of his best performances of the year. The 27-year-old had one earned run in 14 1/3 innings over his previous two outings.

The prolific offense and stifling top of the rotation hasn’t kept the White Sox from being a fourth-place club in the AL Central - 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Royals and 8 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card.

Chicago hasn’t won consecutive games since July 31-Aug. 1, but has won four of its last seven, alternating wins and losses. Since Aug. 2, however, the White Sox have lost nine of 14.

Consistency has eluded Robin Ventura’s team, as it has won more than three games in a row only once all year, when it won four straight from May 4-7.

The offense has come around the last three games since a brief cold spell. After scoring three runs or fewer for eight straight contests (13 total), the White Sox have scored 21 runs over their last three games.

But they also have allowed at least five runs in each of their last four games after not doing so the previous four.

The Orioles have a lot on their plate, however, with two of the AL’s top starters on the bump to start the series and the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year leading one of the league’s top lineups.

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