What Should Indians Expect in Final Showdown with White Sox?

The 2011 MLB season is winding down, and now that the Cleveland Indians are officially out of the playoff race the games don’t much matter (though they still have something to play for). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be interested in the Tribe’s swan song against a trio of familiar division foes.

Today, the Chicago White Sox (74-78, 14.5 GB) come to town for a tightly packed three-day, four-game series at Progressive Field. Many expected the Pale Hose to win (or at least be serious contenders in) the AL Central this year, but thanks to a slow start and some key players’ season-long struggles, they’re in third place and looking up at the surprising Indians.

We’ve seen much of the White Sox before (the Indians are 5-9 against them on the season), but in case you’re looking for more information, I talked again to SouthSideShowdown.com‘s Travis Miller, who was kind enough to offer his thoughts on Chicago’s offseason plans, the White Sox’ ability to contend in the future, and the length of Adam Dunn’s leash. Here’s what he had to say:

LEWIE POLLIS: The White Sox are currently on pace to finish four games under .500 after many had predicted them to win the AL Central. Were you disappointed, or is this about what you’d expected? What went wrong?

TRAVIS MILLER: I was very disappointed to see the White Sox underperform like this. I had them contending for an American League championship, but I also had John Danks as my dark horse for the Cy Young, so my credibility is right up there with Bob Nightengale’s (reported that Cubs GM Jim Hendry would be retained in 2012…three weeks after Hendry was notified he’d be fired…AWKWARD!).

The main beef I have with this year’s team lies strictly on the bats of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham. Beckham is still a kid and Rios has almost certainly been playing hurt, but I can’t figure out what went wrong with Dunn. I have my theories, but the numbers tell the story – .165/11/41. If he even slashes .225/30/75, which is still a down year for him, that equals countless more White Sox victories. I’m not saying they’d have kept pace with the Tigers, who are playing unreal September baseball, but things would be a lot different on the south side.

LEWIE POLLIS: How do you expect the White Sox to perform in 2012? In 2013? Is it rebuilding time, or can the White Sox compete for another few years?

TRAVIS MILLER: The glass is always half-full with me. Chris Sale will be in the starting rotation, Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro De Aza could be everyday players, and the return for Carlos Quentin, who will almost certainly be traded, should still be high. Brent Morel and Beckham need to improve offensively, but I also have a sneaking suspicion that Dunn and Rios will be back to normal next year. Expectations will be much lower and I think this team will surprise some people.

LEWIE POLLIS: The White Sox did some pretty big spending last winter. What should we expect to happen on the South Side this offseason?

TRAVIS MILLER: As I already mentioned, Carlos Quentin will probably be traded – that should be the big move the White Sox make. I’m still on the fence on whether or not Mark Buehrle should be retained. I think everyone would be better off if he just signs with St. Louis and both parties make a clean break. That will open up the rotation spot for Sale so the team doesn’t have to trade Gavin Floyd or let Phil Humber walk. Juan Pierre also becomes a free agent. If he isn’t re-signed, that opens things up for De Aza to lead off and play center and Rios can move to right. De Aza is Willie Mays in CF compared to Rios.

LEWIE POLLIS: We’re coming to the end of the line on his first season in Chicago, and Adam Dunn is currently at -2.7 fWAR. If you were in charge, what would you do with Dunn? At what point do the Sox simply cut bait?

TRAVIS MILLER: He and the White Sox will put this season behind them. Fans, not so much, but that doesn’t become a problem until his first strikeout in 2012. Because Dunn is who he is, he’s got to get a chance next season, but on a much shorter leash. If his power is non-existent and he’s around the Mendoza line by the end of May, it’s time to take action. No waiting around until September next year.

LEWIE POLLIS: Who’s taking the mound for the White Sox this week, and what should Tribe fans look for from them?

TRAVIS MILLER: The Sox throw Gavin Floyd (12-11, 4.42 ERA) in game 1 on Tuesday and Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 2.25) in game 2. You’ve already seen plenty of Floyd this season (2-0, 2.42 in 4 starts), but Axelrod should be interesting to watch. He’s got a nasty slider and was in line for his first career win against the Tigers (6 IP, 8 Ks, 2 ER) but a bullpen meltdown screwed him in the 9th. Great story, too. He’s been featured several times on Seedlings to Stars this year because he’s stormed through the minors to get this opportunity after being left for dead a couple years back.

Mark Buehrle (11-9, 3.74) throws on Wednesday – he’s been lit up for 20 runs and 33 hits in his last three starts (15 1/3 IP). Phil Humber (9-8, 3.59) will pitch the series finale on Thursday. His success hinges completely on his sinker. If it’s not sinking, the Indians can feast. You’ll know early.

LEWIE POLLIS: What’s your prediction for the series?

TRAVIS MILLER: It just seems as though every team in Major League Baseball cares about the game more than the White Sox do. The Indians will take three out of four. I just hope the one the Sox win is Axelrod’s start. He earned that win in his last start.

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