SOX STILL DOWN

Pitch­ing re­mains big­gest con­cern af­ter team gets off to slow start against di­vi­sion-ri­val Twins, In­di­ans

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN dvan­schouwen@sun­times.com | @CST_­sox­van

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.”

GETTY IM­AGES

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

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