SOX STILL DOWN
Pitching remains biggest concern after team gets off to slow start against division-rival Twins, Indians
Two wins, four losses. Against the top two teams in the division.
That much has been established a half-dozen games into the season, as the White Sox are still looking up at the slugging Twins and dealing Indians after losing two of three against each team.
This is supposed to be the year the Sox challenge the class of the American League Central. With three years of rebuilding behind them, an assemblage of young talent and the addition of veteran free agents have them positioned to make the postseason after an 11year drought.
Manager Rick Renteria has been pushing the playoff message since last winter. Players have been telling us how loaded and talented their lineup is, proclamations sprinkled with “World Series” mentions to trumpet the message.
Outsiders bought in. One publication touted the Sox’ lineup as the seventh-best in baseball. Another had the Sox 11th in power rankings.
The first six games were a friendly reality check, brought to you by a couple of teams still standing in the Sox’ way.
In the big picture of a plan for sustained success, such talk might be a year too early, but sizing up the Sox’ roster, qualifying for a 16-team postseason was deemed low-hanging fruit just one week ago.
But those Twins, who set the record for homers in a season, can still hit. And the Indians’ starting pitching has been lights-out.
The Sox can finish third and still make it in the new and forgiving playoff picture, but it’s not going to be easy, especially if their pitching doesn’t measure up. Save for one (of two) good start by Lucas Giolito and one from Dallas Keuchel, the team’s starting pitching has been dismal. The lineup struggled with runners in scoring position for most of the series against the Indians, although it didn’t have Eloy Jimenez for two games and Nomar Mazara for any of it.
“If we get the starting pitching that we’ve talked about since the winter,” Renteria said after the Sox and Giolito beat the Indians 4-0 on Wednesday, “we have a chance to play games like this and keep ourselves in it and give ourselves and our offense an opportunity to strike.
“If we play good baseball, play our game, I think we can stand with anybody.”
We’ll see. It will be fun watching this team trying to prove it.
“Obviously, [the Twins and Indians are] very good teams,” Giolito said. “The Indians’ starting pitching is very, very solid. The Twins’ offense is very, very solid. For us, it’s important that we sync up our explosive offense along with our starting pitching. Our first round of starters did not go as planned.”
Giolito said it’s about coming to the field every day expecting to win no matter the opponent, but that comes with a strong rotation. Giolito struggled against the Twins but threw a gem against the Indians. Keuchel was excellent against the Twins, but Reynaldo Lopez (Twins), Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon (Indians) put the Sox in early holes in their first starts.
Lopez, Cease and Rodon brought varying degrees of promise but uncertainty and were big keys to the season. The depth that should be there as a fallback has been affected with Michael Kopech opting out and Lopez (shoulder) and Jimmy Lambert (forearm), who was excellent in the bullpen, hurt.
“I’m excited to see how Dallas does next game [Friday against the Royals] and the rest of the starters [following],” Giolito said.
The bullpen has been solid. It held the Indians scoreless.
Now, it’s on to Kansas City, a team the Sox have to make hay with. They say they weren’t overwhelmed by the Twins and Indians. “No, man, it’s just a small sample,” shortstop Tim Anderson said. “We’ve got a lot more baseball to play. We’re just getting started.”
Besides a gem from Lucas Giolito (above) on Wednesday vs. the Indians and a solid debut by Dallas Keuchel (below) on Saturday vs. the Twins, the Sox’ rotation has struggled.