The Chicago White Sox were hoping to continue their strong start in April as they faced the Cleveland Guardians for the first time this season. The first two games were postponed and a telling sign of the bad luck that was ahead for the White Sox.
The White Sox allowed 10 runs in the first two innings of the first game of the series. Afterward, the team couldn’t recover, and the Guardians outplayed and swept the White Sox. It’s early on in the season and it’s easy to overreact to a sweep. However, there are some issues from the roster that are going to become concerns as the season progresses.
Keuchel’s awful start
Last week, Dallas Keuchel started his first game of the season. The start wasn’t great but promising, as the 34-year-old starter limited the Seattle Mariners to three runs in five innings. The hope was that Keuchel could build momentum from the start and more importantly, provide stability to the backend of the rotation as the season progresses.
The White Sox received the opposite of what they were hoping for. Keuchel’s start against the Guardians was one of the worst in the MLB this season. After one inning with 10 hits and 10 runs allowed, Keuchel was taken out of the game forcing manager Tony La Russa to use the bullpen for the next 21 outs.
Moreover, Keuchel’s start displayed all the issues with his pitch selection. Keuchel’s sinker and changeup, two of his off-speed pitches that ideally force weak contact, were ineffective against the Guardians lineup. The cutter meanwhile was often poorly located, including on the grand slam against Jose Ramirez as the ball ended up over the heart of the plate.
The hope is that Keuchel can bounce back but the poor pitches are a concern for the White Sox, to say the least. Opposing hitters will make contact off Keuchel’s pitches and force the fielders to bail him out. In addition, the cutter, the ideal put-away pitch from the left-handed starter, is moving over the middle of the plate instead of out of the strike zone.
White Sox bats struggle
The White Sox scored five runs in the three-game series. After scoring 10 runs in the series against the Mariners and nine against the Tampa Bay Rays, the expectation was for the momentum to continue into the Guardians series. The White Sox are carried by their lineup and when the order struggled, the entire team falls apart.
The Guardians have great pitching, particularly starting pitching but the batting order was hapless. The notable concern however was how the lineup struggled against fastball-dependent pitchers. Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie primarily rely on their fastball-slider combination to dominate on the mound, both starters limited the White Sox to only one run. While Zach Plesac mixes in the changeup, he also heavily relies on the fastball and put together a strong start against the struggling lineup.
The White Sox lineup is one of the best in the MLB and tends to attack most starting pitchers early and often in games. It’s unlikely that fastball-first starting pitchers will become the downfall of the batting order. However, the recent series does raise the concern and leaves fans with something to watch as the team continues to develop in the first month of the season.
Where the sweep of the White Sox isn’t a concern
The three losses in a row to the Guardians were tough to watch. In addition, the Guardians proved early on in the season that they will be a competitive team this season. Cleveland might not win the division, but they will give the White Sox difficult matchups.
However, the sweep was a bump in the road. For starters, this is April baseball for the White Sox, and this is a team that is still trying to figure its roster out. The White Sox, like the rest of the MLB, are acclimating themselves to the marathon season. These losses happen and will continue to happen, especially early on in the season.
Moreover, the issues for the White Sox are straightforward and relatively easy to manage. The backend of the rotation is a weakness and Keuchel’s inconsistency doesn’t help. Keuchel had a rough outing but whether it’s pitch selection or location, he can easily bounce back. The White Sox struggled at the plate but in the cold weather with players still searching for their swing, it’s going to happen.
Ultimately, the White Sox had a difficult series and there’s no way around it. It’s going to be one where they burn the tape and move on. The White Sox play the Minnesota Twins over the weekend in their next series, a team that like the Guardians, looks to play competitive baseball early this season.
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