Mound Matters: White Sox Rotation Anchoring Playoff Hopes

With Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert down, the White Sox rotation is vital to a White Sox playoff appearance this season.

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Sure, the offense has been clicking on all cylinders as of late, leading the league in fWAR (10.2) and run differential (+73), but the .323 BABIP they’re carrying suggests that some regression is coming from their torrid pace of 5.28 runs per game.

Or maybe not. Maybe the 5.28 runs per game eventually come by way of the long ball — something the White Sox rank 23rd in right now — instead of balls in play.

Either way, the pitching staff has displayed the ability to keep the White Sox on top of the standings even if the offense comes down to earth just slightly in the coming weeks.

As a whole, the White Sox have a 3.28 ERA as a staff today, good for tops in the American League and fourth in baseball. The starting rotation has a stellar 2.97 ERA that ranks first in the American League and fifth in baseball.

The bullpen (3.84 ERA) has been good, but not great as it was advertised as heading into the season. The real story here has been the starting rotation, specifically the back end of Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon.

Photo: David Banks - Associated Press

Cease was considered a work-in-progress this spring. Rodon wasn’t considered anything more than a potential innings absorber at the bottom of the rotation after being non-tendered this winter and brought back on a one-year, $3 million deal.

But it’s Cease and Rodon who have led the way for the White Sox rotation through the first seven weeks.

Together the two are 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA through 77.2 innings of work this season, striking out 11.6 opposing hitters per nine innings. The BB/9 (3.7) of the duo is still higher than anyone would like to see, but walks have long been the bugaboo of both Cease and Rodon, so that’s, to some degree, expected.

Carlos Rodon has a no-hitter to boot this season, and Dylan Cease has a (seven-inning) complete-game shutout to his name. The two have gone from massive maybes to must-see-TV this season, and that’s been a major development for the White Sox.

The emergence of both Cease and Rodon has helped offset the less-than-ideal start for incumbent staff ace Lucas Giolito. I say less-than-ideal because, despite Giolito carrying a 3-4 record and a 4.35 ERA through his first nine starts after many pegged Giolito to be a Cy Young Award contender this season, it really hasn’t been that bad.

If you scrap the Patriots Day beatdown that the Red Sox put on him last month, Giolito’s ERA is just 3.21, a very respectable number when it comes to front-end starting pitchers. While we can’t just throw out bad starts to skew statistics in a light more pleasant to our eyes, it’s nice to know that Giolito’s ERA is largely inflated by that single start.

Since that start, Giolito has a 3.48 ERA and is striking out hitters at a 10.1 K/9 rate. While Giolito has admitted that he’s spent more time this season working on release points and his secondary stuff than he probably would have liked, he’s going to be just fine in the end.

Photo: Joe Camporeale - USA Today

There’s no reason to panic. If you were, look at his last start against Minnesota in which he held the Twins to just one run on two hits while striking out 11 over eight innings of work. The ace is fine.

Sandwiched between the stellar starts of Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodon and the less-than-ideal start of Lucas Giolito are Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel in the middle of the rotation.

Lynn has been pretty much as advertised. He eats innings (averaging just a tick under six innings per start), he strikes out opposing hitters (10.1 K/9), and he limits runs (1.55 ERA).

Not a whole lot to gripe about when it comes to No. 33.

Keuchel, on the other hand, has met some regression from his stellar 2020 numbers. His 4.44 ERA — and even more troubling 5.82 FIP — has been an issue for the White Sox. Keuchel is walking nearly five per game and allowing two home runs per contest this season.

Again, the story as of late has been the offense. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that this offense is going to crater, but it’s playing beyond expectation right now with Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert absent from the lineup card.

When the offense does go through its natural ebbs and flows this summer, it will be the starting rotation that will anchor the club’s postseason aspirations.

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