When the Tampa Bay Rays host the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, the big story might be more about who is not in the lineup than who is playing in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Each team will be without its big-hitting shortstop. Chicago All-Star Tim Anderson is on the 10-day injured list due to a groin injury. Tampa Bay phenom Wander Franco is expected to be out for about two weeks because of an injured quadriceps muscle.
Without Anderson, who is hitting .356 with five home runs, 19 RBIs and eight stolen bases, the White Sox have a huge hole at the top of their lineup. Anderson, one of the best all-around offensive players in baseball, usually is the leadoff hitter.
“He’s our ignitor,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said.
Anderson was seen riding an exercise bike before Chicago wrapped up its series at Toronto on Thursday, but he’ll be sitting during the series with the Rays.
“(Chicago trainer James) Kruk said (Anderson’s) history is he heals fast,” La Russa said. “If he could come back in 15 days, we’ll be celebrating.”
The Rays are in a similar situation without Franco, who started the season on a roll before cooling off. Tampa Bay second baseman Brandon Lowe also is expected to be out until at least mid-June due to a back injury.
That has played a role in an offensive shortage for Tampa Bay recently. The Rays’ last 22 batters made outs Tuesday against the Texas Rangers, and that was followed by the first eight batters in Wednesday’s game. That’s the equivalent of more than a perfect game (27 consecutive outs).
The Rays have scored just 21 runs in their past eight games, and hitting coach Chad Mottola said the woes have been due to “kind of the perfect storm” of the injuries and top-notch pitching by opponents.
“We have high expectations,” Mottola told the Tampa Bay Times. “We expect more. There’s no doubt we’re underperforming. They’re professional. They take it, they accept it.”
The Rays are hoping another phenom, rookie Vidal Brujan, can replace Franco in the field and at the plate. Brujan, who got his first start at shortstop on Thursday, and he doubled to drive in the first run of Tampa Bay’s 3-1 against Texas. Brujan also made two outstanding defensive plays.
The White Sox also are optimistic they can find other sources of offense than Anderson. Outfielder Luis Robert is back from the COVID-19 list and third baseman Yoan Moncada has returned from injury. Robert hit a two-run double on Thursday, though Chicago fell 8-3 as Toronto completed a three-game sweep.
The White Sox are about to run into another big obstacle. They will face Tampa Bay’s top two pitchers, Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen, in the first two games of the series.
McClanahan (5-2, 2.01 ERA) will get the start Friday. The left-hander was as hot as any pitcher in baseball last month, going 4-0 with a 1.15 ERA in May.
McClanahan has allowed three runs or fewer in all 10 of his starts this season. He will be making only his second career appearance against Chicago. The previous one came in a loss in which he allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings on June 15, 2021.
Chicago will counter with right-hander Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.30 ERA). In three career appearances (all starts) against the Rays, Velasquez is 0-1 with a 4.02 ERA.
In a matchup with Tampa Bay on April 17, Velasquez went 4 2/3 innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks while striking out five.
–Field Level Media