OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The Chicago White Sox have been getting some stellar pitching on their West Coast road trip.Two days after White Sox teammate Phil Humber pitched the 21st perfect game in major league history, Jake Peavy followed with his own gem.Peavy pitched a three-hitter, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko hit back-to-back homers and Chicago beat the Oakland Athletics 4-0 on Monday night for its fourth straight victory.Peavy allowed only a leadoff single to Jemile Weeks in the fourth inning, a double to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh and a single to Coco Crisp in the ninth. The 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner walked two and faced only four batters more than the minimum."I kind of expect it," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It might be unfair to say stuff like that but he's that good."Peavy (3-0) needed 107 pitches to handcuff the A's, the lowest-scoring team in the American League. Since drawing a no-decision against Texas in his first start this season, Peavy has a 1.19 ERA over his last 22 2-3 innings."You always want to finish what you start," said Peavy of his sixth career shutout. "I felt good tonight. Other than the fourth I didn't have any crazy, stressful innings."The only time Peavy ran into trouble came after Weeks' single in the fourth. He walked the next batter, Crisp, but got Josh Reddick to hit into a double play and then retired Cespedes on a foul pop to the catcher.The shutout extended Peavy's scoreless streak to 14 innings and helped the White Sox move into a first-place tie with idle Detroit in the AL Central."(Peavy) was establishing the zone away," Weeks said. "Once you do that it's hard to take care of the whole plate."Alex Rios added three hits for Chicago, while Brent Morel had two hits and scored a run.Oakland starter Bartolo Colon (3-2) scattered seven hits over seven innings and fell short in his bid to become the first four-game winner in the majors.Dunn homered on the first pitch from Colon leading off the fourth, a towering shot to left. Konerko followed with a drive to center, the 399th home run of his career.That ended Colon's shutout streak of 18 1-3 innings and gave Peavy more than enough room to work with.Colon, who threw 38 consecutive strikes in his previous start against the Angels, put together another streak of 20 straight during one stretch and got the White Sox to ground into three double plays.With no run support, though, it didn't matter."It was similar to what we've seen, a lot of strikes," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "To give up just two to that team, you're giving your team a chance to win."Oakland has been shut out a league-leading four times already this season and has scored just 52 runs through 18 games. That's the second-fewest in the majors behind Pittsburgh, which has 30 runs in 15 games.Chicago added a pair of insurance runs in the ninth on RBI singles by Gordon Beckham and A.J. Pierzynski.The loss spoiled the A's debut of third baseman Luke Hughes.Hughes, claimed off waivers from Minnesota a day earlier, arrived in Oakland about two hours before the first pitch and was immediately put into the starting lineup. He got off to a shaky start with his new team, committing a pair of throwing errors.NOTES: Konerko started at DH rather than first base because of the expansive foul ground in Oakland. He's also still nursing a sore right foot after taking a foul ball off it during the Seattle series. ... Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the A's plan to call up Jarrod Parker from the minors to start Wednesday's series finale. ... To make room for Hughes, the A's optioned INF Josh Donaldson to Triple-A Sacramento. Donaldson entered spring training as a backup catcher but was moved to third base after Scott Sizemore's season-ending knee injury during the team's first full-squad workout. ... RHP Gavin Floyd (1-2), who has won three of his four starts against Oakland, pitches for Chicago on Tuesday. Tommy Milone (2-1) goes for the A's.
Things are about to get tougher for the White Sox. Much tougher.
The upcoming road trip features seven straight games against first-place teams, the Houston Astros and the Minnesota Twins. Those two teams are, by their winning percentages as of this writing, the two best teams in baseball.
The much-bemoaned makeup of this season’s American League means seeing top-shelf competition is a rarity for any team playing outside the AL East. The Astros are a mile ahead of the rest of the AL West. The Twins have appeared, so far, as the only team capable of winning an aggressively weak AL Central. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays — three teams the White Sox have already seen one time apiece — will battle it out for the AL East crown all season long, but let’s be honest, they all seem safe bets to make the postseason.
The fact that the five teams likely to make the playoffs have already put themselves ahead of the competition and it’s not even Memorial Day is its own discussion topic as the rebuilding trend sweeps through the Junior Circuit. But for the 2019 edition of the Chicago White Sox, specifically, it just means that this week is not likely to be a good one.
In the 10 games they played against the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox, the White Sox went 3-7. They were pasted by the Rays and Red Sox, who combined to outscore them 58-18 in seven games on the South Side, and they took two of three from the Yankees in The Bronx.
Of course, any expectations can be dashed in a small portion of a 162-game season. Cast your mind back to 2017, when the White Sox swept a three-game series from the soon-to-be world-champion Astros. The South Siders finished with 95 losses that season, but for three games in August, they had the champs’ number.
Will this week go similarly? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem likely.
The Astros are on fire, or at least they were before the Red Sox snapped their 10-game winning streak Sunday. That doesn’t change the fact that the Astros boast a plus-92 run differential that counts as the best in the game. Or their 3.43 team ERA (second in the AL). Or their .279 team batting average and jaw-dropping .353 team on-base percentage, both marks the best in baseball.
The Twins, the division rivals the White Sox will see for the first time in 2019 beginning Friday, aren’t far behind. That offense has been sensational, too, through the season’s first two months, owning baseball’s second best run differential (plus-77) and its second best team batting average (.270). No team in either league has hit more homers than the Twins, who have launched 87 of them in 45 games.
The White Sox, meanwhile, have a fragile, injury-affected starting rotation — after Sunday’s game, manager Rick Renteria did not share who’s starting Monday’s game — and a pitching staff with a 5.09 ERA that’s given up 68 homers this season. Sunday, Reynaldo Lopez made it through six innings of one-run ball, only for the White Sox bullpen to cough up a pair of two-run homers to the Toronto Blue Jays (one of baseball’s worst offenses) in the game’s final two innings. It was the sixth time this season the White Sox bullpen has allowed multiple home runs in a single game.
“Gulp” might be an appropriate reaction to hearing the White Sox have to go up against the Houston and Minnesota offenses seven times in the next seven days.
This isn’t to say the White Sox are merely a punching bag for these two giants of the American League right now. Certainly most of the teams the Astros and Twins have faced have suffered less than desirable fates. But the gaps between the rebuilding White Sox and this pair of contenders are not small.
The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same thing the Astros did, spending several frustrating years being patient during a rebuilding process only to come out the other side a perennial contender and World Series champion. These same Astros who are now bullying the rest of the AL lost a total of 416 games in the four seasons prior to their first playoff season in a decade in 2015. By the end of the 2017 campaign, they were world champions. That’s the template the White Sox are trying to follow.
But the White Sox aren’t to the mountaintop yet, and that might end up being painfully clear by the end of the upcoming road trip. It doesn’t mean their climb won’t get them to that same point, but don’t try to compare the 2019 White Sox to the 2019 Astros this week. That’s not the comparison that counts.
The Twins are a little different, having revamped their lineup over the offseason with free-agent acquisitions who have paid huge dividends. C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz (currently on the IL) have combined for 31 homers in 45 games. But homegrown guys like Jorge Polanco, Mitch Garver, Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler are all playing well, too. That quintet has accounted for 43 of the Twins’ 87 homers this season. That’s a strong core of homegrown young hitters, the kind of thing the White Sox hope to have real soon, the kind of thing that’s taking shape with Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson off to good starts and Eloy Jimenez at the major league level (and likely to come off the injured list Monday).
The White Sox have obviously had their positives this season, and they’re clearly in a better place now than they were at this point last year (a 21-24 record after Sunday’s game compared to 14-31 through the first 45 games of 2018). But their rebuilding process hasn’t yet reached the point where they’re going to be trading blows with the two best teams in baseball.
There could be some surprises on this road trip. But they don’t figure to be easy to come by. Buckle up, here come the two best teams in baseball.
Lucas Giolito has looked like a different pitcher this season, particularly over his last five starts, where he has posted a miniscule 1.67 ERA in 27 innings, striking out 32 and walking only 9. But even if you take his entire 2019 body of work into account, he has been so much better through eight starts than he was in 2018.
Of 109 pitchers who entered Sunday with at least 40 innings pitched, 24 of them are averaging 10 or more strikeouts per 9 innings, and Giolito is one of them, at 10.47. Giolito finished 2018 with 6.5 strikeouts per 9 innings, which is far from ideal. Going by strikeout percentage, he’s way up from 16.1 percent to 28.6 percent.
Comparing his first eight starts of the season in 2018 and 2019, the difference is staggering.
Lucas Giolito – first eight starts of season
Maybe the ERA stands out most to you, but to me, the strikeouts are much more critical.
But why? How is he doing it? The answer certainly seems to be the changeup.
Lucas Giolito first seven starts of 2018 and 2019.
Strikeouts by pitch type (pitch type data from Statcast)
Giolito over his first seven starts of 2019 recorded 16 strikeouts on his changeup, whereas he didn’t record any strikeouts through seven starts last season. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you have watched him work this season. That pitch is nasty and hopefully it continues to be a weapon going forward.