For all of the White Sox’ defensive issues and underperforming offense, their sense of concern or worry as they hover around .500 as Memorial Day approaches can be tempered knowing they will run a very good starting pitcher to the mound every day when Lance Lynn joins them around mid-June.
Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Johnny Cueto give them a good chance to win when they start.
Lynn will, too. Giolito, Cueto and Lynn have been Cy Young vote-getters during their careers and Kopech and Cease, who possess the best stuff on the staff, have been in early-season Cy conversations.
Cease got rocked Tuesday by the Red Sox, one of baseball’s hottest offenses, but is anything but a concern. And Giolito worked out of trouble early and finished strong over six innings of one-run ball in a 3-1 victory against the Red Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field Wednesday, exiting with a 2.63 ERA.
Cease leads the major leagues with 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings, Kopech is second with a 1.29 ERA and Cueto hasn’t allowed a run in his first two starts.
Lynn might have been the Sox’ Opening Day starter if not for an injury in spring training.
It’s a sturdy enough quintet to make former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel(6.60) worry about his status and Vince Velasquez know he might finish the season in the bullpen.
“If we get to the point where we have too much so be it,” Hahn said. “We’ve certainly prepared for the idea we are going to have flex some guys to the bullpen.
“If we have an embarrassment of pitching riches, that’s a problem I look forward to dealing with.”
When Lynn comes back, don’t look for the Sox to consider a six-man rotation, though. Allowing for extra rest has been a talking point but six starters is not in the cards.
“Extra rest is definitely a plus at times,” manager Tony La Russa said Wednesday. “Most guys are on a five-day routine and if you do it as a matter of course, they lose their feel.”
The other thing is, a bullpen arm is lost with an extra starters. And the starters will get extra days with rainouts and spot starts from others.
“And then the last thing is,” La Russa said, “you get down to August, you want your best guys taking the ball as often as possible.”
The Sox are expecting an offense that has been been carried by Tim Anderson and Luis Robert (currently on the COVID-19 injured list) and ranks 23rd overall by FanGraphs to be recognizable by August. Everyone else with the exception of Andrew Vaughn is batting below .237 with an on-base percentage below .310.
Pointing to backs of baseball cards with players’ history had Hahn saying the Sox’ lagging offense will turn itself around.
“It tries your patience sometimes but having faith in the process and the underlying talent gives you optimism that’s going to continue,” he said Tuesday.
A player with very minimal history, Jake Burger, belted a three-run homer on a 67-mph breaking ball from left-hander Rich Hill in the fifth to give Giolito a 3-1 lead as the Sox tried to snap Boston’s six-game winning streak. Hill had faced the minimum through four innings before Jose Abreu doubled and AJ Pollock reached on third baseman Rafael Devers’ throwing error before Burger connected for his third home run.
La Russa emptied his bullpen to save this one, using Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly and Liam Hendriks (1 1/3 innings for the save), who combined on scoreless relief. Kelly left with a tight left hamstring in the eighth.
The Sox rank in the bottom fourth of multiple offensive categories but most perplexing is a 6.1 walk rate that ranks last for a team that was seventh at 9.6.
“That’s not us,” Hahn said. “And I think that’s going to normalize over the course of the season. We’ve had a precipitous drop in our walk rate. The players haven’t changed that dramatically. If anything, the level of maturity, you would expect that to improve, and I think over the course of the summer that’ll get better.”
What is the White Sox is quality starting pitching, with an even higher ceiling than the rotation has demonstrated.
Giolito struck out seven, walked four and gave up five hits but retired the last seven batters he faced.