It's May 7th and the White Sox sit in second place at 16-13, a mere .5 games back of the Cleveland Indians. With a collection of different things going wrong to start the year, most notably injuries to core position players Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, you'd think the sky was falling. The fact of the matter is this team is showing why so many of us were optimistic coming into the season, in spite of the adversity they have faced in this young season. In fact, this White Sox team has the second-best run differential in all of Major League Baseball at +36, which is really quite astounding.
I will admit it doesn't feel like this team has been that dominant given the offensive issues that have been present for stretches early on, coupled with those aforementioned injuries. But all things considered, this team has been able to, thus far, overcome injuries to three of its four top outfielders and inconsistent offensive performances from the reigning American League MVP and several other regulars. If this team is to weather the storm of the prolonged absences for Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez, they will have to continue to lean on their run prevention.
The White Sox as a team have performed admirably to this point on the mound. The career resurgence of Carlos Rodon is one of the brightest spots of the season's first five weeks. Coupled with recent improvements by Dylan Cease and the overall dominance of Michael Kopech in multiple roles, this team is getting significant contributions from sources they weren't necessarily expecting. I posited early in the spring that if the White Sox got significant improvements from just one member of this group that I believed they would win the pennant. Of course, there was a caveat that they don't sustain any significant injuries, and well, that hasn't worked out so great.
If I told you that this team would rank sixth in the Major's in ERA (3.36), fifth in FIP (3.45), fifth in K/9 (10.43), and seventh in HR/9 (1.01) at the start of the season, I think we would all be ecstatic. They've done this with uneven performances from their top two starters, Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, and a bullpen that ranks 21st in the league in HR/9 as a group. This is certainly a welcomed development. Going into the season, I was a firm believer in this team's run prevention abilities and I felt it would be an unheralded strength to this team and it has been, thus far.
The starting corps has been phenomenal overall, despite the rough outings from Giolito and Keuchel, Dylan Cease's early-season struggles to record more than 14 outs, and Lance Lynn's trip to the injured list. Things really have stabilized since the season's first few weeks where they were consistently taxing the bullpen and forcing them to cover far too many outs during the course of games. This group collectively has top-five ranks across all of baseball in ERA (third) at 2.87, FIP (fifth) at 3.26, and HR/9 (third) at .86. The one blemish to this point has been their increased propensity to issue free passes, ranking 19th in the league. This has been particularly problematic for Dallas Keuchel, so he must address those command issues going forward.
As previously alluded to, I've been a huge proponent of this bullpen believing it would be one of the league's best. To this point, they've been anything but that with a collective ERA at 4.18 and a HR/9 rate at 1.26, both ranking in the bottom half of the league. They're missing a ton of bats so far, ranking third across baseball at 10.88/9 as a unit. If they continue to miss bats at this clip, I believe the untimely home run issues will normalize over the course of the season. This group still has some of the nastiest stuff in all of baseball despite what they've shown so far.
The pen has shown glimpses of what they can be, however, they haven't strung together an extended stretch of solid performances. When Aaron Bummer puts together a solid outing, it seems like Evan Marshall falters. When Codi Heuer has a dominant outing, he comes out the next day and seemingly struggles. When the bridge from the starters does its job, prized free-agent closer Liam Hendriks can't keep the ball in the park. It's been a little bit of a perfect storm -- but not in a positive manner -- at varying times for this group so far. My confidence in this group hasn't wavered as I firmly believe they will right this ship, and when it's all said and done they will be one of the league's best.
Given the White Sox will likely see their overall run production decline due to the absences of Robert and Jimenez for four months a piece, it will be incumbent upon the pitching staff to pick up the slack. Granted, performances normalizing from veterans Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal to their typical norms will also help matters. Couple that with continued development from young players like Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal, and I expect the offense will gradually improve as the season progresses.
However, as Steve Stone pointed out recently on 670 The Score, this team is losing a projected 70-75 homers without Jimenez and Robert in the lineup. That is a lot of production for any team to lose regardless of what the remainder of the lineup consists of. It is because of that lost production, that it will be incumbent upon the pitching staff to rise to the occasion and be the driving force for this team.
Lucas Giolito fancies himself a $200 million pitcher; it's time for him to show it. Dallas Keuchel likes to be at the forefront with the media when things aren't going great; well it's time to lead by example. Liam Hendriks was the team's prized acquisition this winter; it is time for him to go out there and show why. Lance Lynn has been the bulldog you expected, and your young question marks have answered the bell. It's time for the rest of the group to do the same.
Make no mistake about it, there will be no eulogy for the 2021 White Sox right now. Their path to the Soxtober has gotten tougher this week with the unfortunate news about Luis Robert's injury. But This group can do it. I believed in this group back in February, and I still do today in early May.