Things for the White Sox last week were, in the words of John Mulaney, “Getting a little sticky.” At a 1-4 record through the first five games of a 60-game season, the White Sox had gotten next to nothing from their rotation, and the offense hadn’t done enough to pick up the slack. Faced with the possibility of falling to 1-5.
But six innings of shutout pitching from Lucas Giolito on July 29 against Cleveland gave them the jump they needed heading into a series of three winnable games against the Royals. After pulling off the sweep and taking two of the first three games from Milwaukee, the White Sox are 7-4, a game-and-a-half ahead of the Cleveland Indians for second place in the AL central and looking like they just might have their sea legs under them.
“The thing that probably has impressed me the most is the resiliency of the club,” GM Rick Hahn said. “Obviously, those of us who have watched this team over the last several years and certainly in the early phases of the rebuild knew that feeling that you would get early or midway through games where you would feel that the lead was perhaps insurmountable. I think, looking at this club through the first 10 or 11 games so far, it feels like we’re not out of any ballgame, regardless of what the deficit may be.”
The prevailing Achilles’ heel of the White Sox start was their rotation, which had an MLB-worst 12.64 ERA through their first five games of the season. But the staff shut things down in Kansas City, starting off with another strong start from Dallas Keuchel (5.1 IP, two earned runs and two strikeouts). Jimmy Cordero casually tossed three strikeouts in 1.2 innings out of the bullpen, and Evan Marshall and Alex Colomé finished off the 3-2 win.
Sunday, in closing out the three-game sweep, was perhaps the best sign yet for the White Sox, as they put nine runs up on the Royals and got an impressive start out of Dylan Cease, who allowed only one run while striking out four in six innings. His control even took a step in the right direction, as he surrendered only one walk.
The turnaround against the Royals continued into the first two games of their four-game series against Milwaukee, which they won 6-4 and 3-2. In big spots so far, the bullpen has been dynamite, with Colomé emerging as a big-time closer by not allowing a run in five innings. Evan Marshall’s done the same in 5.2 innings, and Aaron Bummer’s picked up where he left off last year.
“I feel like the growth that we’ve seen in some of our young arms is a big positive for the long term,” Hahn said. “And something that I expect we’re going to continue throughout this summer.”
The White Sox’ young hitters have also pulled through as of late propelling them to a team batting average of .284, the highest in baseball. Already Luis Robert looks like the player a star in the making, with a slashline of .364/.429/.568. He’s hit two home runs and three doubles, and has even hit leadoff for the White Sox, .471 in 21 plate appearances and a home run out of that spot.
Eloy Jiménez, after a 3-for-4 Tuesday night, is off to a great start this year, with three home runs and a wOBA of .435. Yóan Moncada looks right at home once again and put the icing on the cake for the White Sox by hitting a solo shot in the top of the 9th on Monday. He’s hit two home runs this season and has an OPS of .964.
Even Nick Madrigal, before sustaining an injury Tuesday night, impressed in limited quantity; after an 0-for-5 outing on Saturday, he went 4-for-5 the next day and drew the bases loaded walk that would put the White Sox ahead 5-4 on Monday.
Despite the resurgence, however, the White Sox may soon face an attrition problem. Edwin Encarnacíon is listed as day-to-day, and Tim Anderson, Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón all on the 10-day IL, leaving two holes to fill in the rotation. Hahn signaled the team would have to address it creatively, as Dane Dunning will not get the start this Saturday.
“We’re not setting in stone in any long-term plans,” Hahn said. “Let’s get through today, we know who’s available today. We have a general idea of what we want to do tomorrow. When we get to Saturday, we’ll start piecing that thing together probably once we get through tomorrow night’s game.”
It was also announced today that Nick Madrigal separated his shoulder and will miss considerable time, so the White Sox already have lost real value to injuries. With that, their young hitters, like Moncada, Robert and Jiménez, have to continue stepping up. Even someone like Leury García, considered an afterthought of the grand scheme of the White Sox, has proven tremendously important as a utilityman and has hit to an OPS of .862.
It’s been a good time for the White Sox thus far, and a win over the Brewers tonight would mark their sixth win in a row. The panic that came from their slow start to this season seems to have subsided as their hitters have stayed strong and the rotation has settled down, and if it continues, the White Sox may find their way into the playoffs.