For all of the White Sox’ defensive issues and offensive doldrums, their sense of concern 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 Wednesday in a 3-1 victory over the Red Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, exiting with a 2.63 ERA. Cease leads the majors 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 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel (6.60 ERA) 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,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “We’ve certainly prepared for the idea of having to 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. “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 starter. The starters will get extra days with rainouts and spot starts from others, and La Russa wants “your best guys taking the ball as often as possible” down the stretch.
The Sox are expecting an offense that has been carried by Tim Anderson and Luis Robert (COVID-19 injured list) and is ranked 23rd overall by FanGraphs to be recognizable by August.
Pointing to the 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 [the previous success is] going to continue,” he said Tuesday.
A player with very minimal history, Jake Burger, belted a three-run home run on a 67 mph breaking ball from left-hander Rich Hill in the fifth inning to give Giolito a two-run lead as the Sox snapped 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 homer.
La Russa used relievers Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Joe Kelly and Liam Hendriks (11⁄3 innings for the save), who combined on scoreless relief.
Kelly left with a tight left hamstring in the eighth inning.
The Sox rank in the bottom fourth of several offensive categories but most perplexing is a 6.1 walk rate that ranks last for a team that was seventh in the majors at 9.6 last season.
“That’s not us,” Hahn said. “And I think that’s going to normalize over the course of the season.”
What is the Sox is quality starting pitching, with an even higher ceiling than the rotation has demonstrated.
Giolito, who struck out seven, walked four and allowed five hits, retired the last seven batters he faced.
“Just another box to check for how lucky we are to have him,” La Russa said.
“There was instant trouble, but he was competing, making pitches he had to and fighting. Ends up getting deep into a hard game against that lineup.”