PITCH­ING RE­MAINS A CON­CERN

Of­fense might have to carry Sox into post­sea­son

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

Nine­teen games to go.

That’s what stands be­tween the White Sox (26-15) and their first post­sea­son ap­pear­ance since 2008. With the third-best record in base­ball through Sun­day, and af­ter a four-game sweep of the Royals and 16 wins in their last 20 games, they go roar­ing into the home stretch. The Sox are tied with the Dodgers for the best record in the last three weeks.

Even so, the In­di­ans and Twins are right on the Sox’ tail in the race for first place in the Amer­i­can League Cen­tral, and they will have to hold them off with a start­ing ro­ta­tion that has en­dured non­stop ca­su­al­ties and a bullpen try­ing to hold its own with­out left-han­der Aaron Bum­mer.

Maybe the Sox, who lead the AL in home runs, slug­ging and OPS, will sim­ply mash their way to the post­sea­son and ren­der their pitch­ing chal­lenges ob­so­lete.

Here are four ques­tions fac­ing the Sox as they rested on La­bor Day:

Will Dal­las Keuchel and the start­ing ro­ta­tion hold it to­gether?

Gen­eral man­ager Rick Hahn de­clined to add pitch­ing at the dead­line, and now depth poses a big prob­lem. Keuchel, the No. 2 starter be­hind Open­ing Day starter Lu­cas Gi­olito but their best and most con­sis­tent over­all, is the lat­est con­cern af­ter leav­ing Sun­day’s game fol­low­ing five in­nings.

Hahn noted a re­turn from the in­jured list for Car­los Rodon (shoul­der) as an im­pend­ing re­in­force­ment, but Rodon is out at Schaum­burg with a sore back. Reynaldo Lopez (8.38 ERA) was sent back to Schaum­burg af­ter be­ing in­ef­fec­tive. Dy­lan Cease’s 5-2 record and 3.29 ERA look bet­ter than his field­ing in­de­pen­dent pitch­ing ERA (6.32), and his strike­out num­bers (6.1 per 9.0 in­nings) are down sig­nif­i­cantly from his rookie sea­son. Per­haps Gio Gon­za­lez (5.11 ERA) will come off the IL and lend a hand.

Two of rookie Dane Dun­ning’s three starts have been good, but he’s com­ing off Tommy John surgery and his work­load and stamina war­rant close mon­i­tor­ing. Keuchel (2.19 ERA) tried eas­ing con­cerns, ex­press­ing op­ti­mism about mak­ing his next start Satur­day. Stay tuned.

Will Aaron Bum­mer re­turn to boost a heav­ily worked bullpen?

The Sox have had one start in their last nine go longer than five in­nings, which is ask­ing a lot of a bullpen miss­ing Bum­mer (left bi­ceps nerve), their top lefty and ar­guably best re­liever over­all. The Sox say he might be back. It’s a big if, and if he is, it will be a huge plus es­pe­cially against tough line­ups and in the post­sea­son.

Steve Cishek (5.87) and Jimmy Cordero (6.23) have strug­gled and Jace Fry is the lat­est to go on the IL, but Matt Foster (1.53), Evan Marshall, Codi Heuer (2.45), Ross Detwiler (1.59) and closer Alex Colome (1.15) have done the heavy lift­ing.

Will the Sox sus­tain this en­ter­tain­ing, power-packed of­fense?

Dur­ing their 16-4 stretch, they av­er­aged 6.5 runs a game. Is that sus­tain­able?

Per­haps not, but hav­ing so many threats — Tim An­der­son, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Rookie of the Year can­di­date Luis Robert, Yas­mani Gran­dal, Ed­win En­car­na­cion and even a less than 100 per­cent Yoan Mon­cada in the first six or seven spots in the or­der makes the Sox as close to slump proof as can be.

What does the sched­ule look like?

Af­ter play­ing the Pirates on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, the Sox en­joy their last off day Thurs­day to gear up to play 17 games in 17 days. In or­der: Pirates 2, Tigers 3, Twins 4, Reds 3, In­di­ans 4, Cubs 3. The Sox are 19-4 against teams with los­ing records and 7-11 against teams with win­ning records.

If the sea­son were over Sun­day, here’s how the first round (best of three) of the AL play­offs would look like: (1) Rays vs. (8) Yan­kees; (2) Sox vs. (7) Twins; (3) Athletics vs. (6) Astros; (4) In­di­ans vs. (5) Blue Jays. The Sox are 2-4 against the Twins.

The Sox have al­ready packed a year’s worth of high­lights in two-thirds of an ab­bre­vi­ated, yet chal­leng­ing 60-game sea­son.

Fas­ten your seat­belt, and en­joy the fin­ish to the best amuse­ment ride in town.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

Be­sides Lu­cas Gi­olito and Dal­las Keuchel (above), who left Sun­day’s game with lower back stiff­ness, the Sox’ start­ing ro­ta­tion is lack­ing con­sis­tency with 19 games re­main­ing this sea­son.

Aaron Bum­mer

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