The Chicago White Sox opening weekend against the Detroit Tigers was a mixed bag with a loss on Opening Day, blowing a 3-1 lead through seven innings and losing 5-4. However, in the next two games the White Sox bounced back with two decisive victories and a strong reminder of why they are the team to beat in the AL Central.
The White Sox didn’t provide many surprises, but a few players stood out and what we saw has to be noted as the season starts to develop. Here’s a look at some of the main takeaways from the opening series.
Hendriks’ Bad Pitch
Liam Hendriks looked poised to earn his first save of the season on Opening Day with the White Sox leading 4-3 over the Tigers and one out in the ninth inning with their star closer on the mound. With a full count, it ultimately came down to one bad pitch, which oddly enough hit its desired location. Hendriks wanted the inside fastball and hit his spot, but Tigers catcher Erik Haase was sitting on the fastball and crushed it to left field to tie the game.
In the 9th, 24 of the 33 pitches Hendriks threw were fastballs, making the pitch to Haase rather predictable. Moreover, Hendriks still had a chance to force the game to extra innings but allowed two hits with two outs to cost the White Sox. It’s easy to pin the loss on the veteran closer but the outing itself is not a predicament for the closer.
Hendriks is going to be a pivotal part of the White Sox bullpen this season and will most certainly rebound from his first outing. Even he knows how frustrating the loss was considering it only came down to a poorly timed fastball. Relievers, especially closers are often defined by their innings but oftentimes it’s the one pitch that can define their games, especially in tight games.
Cease’s Strong Start
Dylan Cease picked up where he left off last season in his first start of 2022. Cease pitched five innings and allowed only one run while striking out eight Tigers in the 5-2 win on Saturday.
What stood out wasn’t that Cease had a great start, but rather how he dominated on the mound. Like many starters in the modern game, Cease relies on a fastball-slider combination to get him through games. With both pitches working in his first start, the Tigers’ batters were under his control. Cease focused on two pitches as 70 of the 79 pitches thrown by the 26-year-old right-hander were either a fastball or slider. The unpredictability with those two pitches fueled the eight strikeouts and the first win of the season.
Cease will be heavily relied upon this season in the White Sox rotation, especially with the injuries to Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito. Cease already commanding both pitches early on in the season hints at a season where the young pitcher emerges as one of the best in the game.
White Sox Bullpen
It’s easy to look at the bullpen from the weekend as a disappointment, especially after the first game. The White Sox had a 3-0 lead through four innings but allowed two runs in both the eighth and ninth innings with Aaron Bummer and Hendriks on the mound as they lost 5-4.
It’s worth noting that this bullpen is still in a transition phase following the trade of reliever Craig Kimbrel only days before the season started. More importantly, the bullpen bounced back and was otherwise strong in the weekend series.
The bullpen pitched nine innings in the final two games of the series and allowed only one run. Notably, Kendall Graveman pitched a scoreless inning while Bummer closed out the 5-2 victory on Saturday. The White Sox bullpen remains a strength of the team and considering the short starts from both Cease and Michael Kopech, it needed to be to close out this series. With the early injuries, the White Sox don’t have a starting pitcher that can go six or seven innings consistently. As a result, the pressure will be on the relievers early on in the season.
White Sox Bats Close Out Series
The White Sox scored 4.91 runs per game last season with one of the best lineups in the game. Along with the Atlanta Braves, the batting order scored the seventh most runs in the MLB.
The lineup remained steady in the first two games, scoring nine runs combined before cruising to a 10-1 victory in the Sunday win, reminding everyone why it carried the team to a 93-win season last year.
Tim Anderson returned to the lineup after serving his two-game suspension and the leadoff hitter provided three hits with five total bases. In the back half of the lineup, Andrew Vaughn provided stability with a three-run home run to put the game out of reach. Vaughn was filling in for AJ Pollock and not only added power, but made his case to stay in the everyday lineup as a versatile player.
The White Sox proved over the weekend that they have a powerful lineup, but also that they have a deep batting order as well. It will fuel the team in the brutal months of April and May that are ahead of them.
Other White Sox Notes from the Series
Despite being only the first series in a long 162-game season, there was more than enough action that took place in Detroit over the weekend:
AJ Pollock had four hits in seven plate appearances before leaving Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury and then being placed on paternity leave. Quite the weekend for Pollock indeed.
Lucas Giolito pitched four scoreless innings in the opener with six strikeouts. Unfortunately, Giolito will miss at least the next two starts with an abdominal strain.
Michael Kopech pitched four innings in the series finale, allowing only one run with three strikeouts. Every Kopech start is watched with bated breath by the team and fans alike.
The White Sox will play their home opener on Tuesday against the Seattle Mariners, who wrap up a 4-game series with Minnesota on Monday. The series will only continue to test the roster powering through the opening week of the season as the White Sox hope to continue to use the month to solve the unanswered questions for the roster.
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