White Sox fans have been great at buying in to Rick Hahn’s rebuilding effort.
But if there were controversies along the way, they stemmed from the dealing away of two of the best young pitchers in the American League.
Chris Sale and Jose Quintana represented the White Sox in the All-Star Game back in 2016, perhaps as good a 1-2 punch as there was in the Junior Circuit and a dream tandem to throw in a playoff series, if the South Siders could ever get there. But they couldn’t. Not in the state they were in. And so Hahn shifted from win-now mode to rebuilding mode, with the trading away of Sale the move that jumpstarted the whole thing.
Half a year later, Quintana was shipped across town to the win-now Cubs. Fourteen months after that, Quintana faced his old mates for the first time at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The other big trade that’s gone heretofore unmentioned was the Adam Eaton deal, which brought back a trio of pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning. Lopez got the head-to-head matchup with Quintana on Friday to kick off the second Crosstown series of 2018, and while the Cubs and White Sox couldn’t be in more different spots in terms of competing for this season’s World Series title, it was Lopez who flashed why the White Sox future is so much brighter than their past ever was.
Lopez dominated the Cubs’ offense, the team that still owns the best record in the National League made to look completely incapable by the hard-throwing 24-year-old. He struck out eight batters in a lineup trying desperately to hold off the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central race. After Daniel Murphy led off the game with a solo homer, Lopez held the Cubs to a scattered quartet of hits over seven innings.
"Their pitcher was good. Give him some credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He threw the ball really well. I was watching him on video yesterday and even some this morning. He's got good stuff. His last three outings, he went seven, six and seven and he did it again, so a big part of why we didn't look so good was him. He was that good."
Indeed, it was the latest in a string of dominant starts Lopez is putting together to close out his first full major league season. The campaign hasn’t always gone smoothly for him, his ERA still above 4.00 when Friday began, but he’s finishing it off in a way that should have fans real excited for his long-term prospects. In his last five starts, he’s got a pencil-thin 0.79 ERA, a stretch that’s dropped his season ERA from 4.66 to 3.94.
“It’s very important for me,” Lopez said, through a team translator, of closing the season on such a strong note. “I set my goal to finish this season with my ERA below 4.00, and now I know my ERA is below that number. That’s all that I want to do. I want to finish the season strong and finish with my ERA below 4.00.
“When you see all the work that you have put in day in, day out to get that result have shown, you feel very satisfied. Because that's what you work for. You work to get good results. You work to get better and to perform. To be able to do that and to know that you're doing something like that, it's special and you feel good.”
Meanwhile, the White Sox offense did to Quintana what it could never do for him: scored a ton of runs.
Quintana’s recent stretch of high-quality starts came to an end — he entered with a 2.10 ERA in his previous six outings — as his former team touched him up for five runs on nine hits and chased him from the game before the first out of the sixth inning. All in all, the White Sox had one of their best offensive days of the season, pouring it on against the bullpen and finishing with 10 runs on 19 hits.
Quintana remains a very good pitcher, and he could very well help the Cubs to another championship. But instead of having just Sale and Quintana, the White Sox now have five or six or seven guys either here or developing in the minor leagues, Lopez being just one of them. The future will continue to be on display this weekend when Giolito and Carlos Rodon pitch in the second and third games against the Cubs.
Friday’s results are not to say that Lopez is a better pitcher than Quintana now or that he ever will be. But it was probably a little bit of vindication for the White Sox, a sign they made a good decision in pushing the rebuild button. The era of White Sox baseball in which Quintana pitched never ended in a postseason appearance. Hahn & Co. are hoping the era Lopez is pitching in ends in a championship.
Friday, at least, it ended in a win.