The best part of the White Sox final six games of the 2018 season? They won’t have to face Corey Kluber again.
Kluber’s dominance over the South Siders continued Monday night, the White Sox offense silenced against a Cleveland Indians pitching staff that could enter October as the American League’s most fearsome. Four Indians starters have hit the 200-strikeout mark this season, the first time a single staff has ever had that happen in baseball history. And a bullpen that’s underachieved statistically after a big-spending offseason still has Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to worry about.
Kluber added to his own big strikeout total with 11 against the White Sox. In four starts against the White Sox this season, Kluber racked up 39 strikeouts and allowed just three earned runs in 28 innings of work. He’s got 184 strikeouts against them in his career, more than any other opponent.
“Kluber did the same thing he’s continued to do,” White Sox skipper Rick Renteria said. “He attacks the strike zone, stays below the zone, ball fades out, works both sides of the plate, runs balls in, catches you locks you up, mixes his pitches well. He got us quite a few times and he just did what he does.
“He’s a Cy Young type pitcher. I think with guys like that, when you have certain opportunities — and you don’t get very many — you’ve got to be able to get at least one point across.”
This is no surprise, of course, one of the league’s top arms — a two-time Cy Young winner, including last year — having so much success against a lineup that’s missed the playoffs every season he’s been in the major leagues. But it shows how tricky it will be for the rebuilding White Sox to ascend to the top of the division. Not only do all the young hitters on the rise through the farm system need to figure out how to succeed at the big league level, they need to do it against some of the game’s best pitchers.
Kluber is under team control for another three seasons, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer for another two and Mike Clevinger for a whopping five seasons. The White Sox likely aren’t tailoring their rebuilding effort to the current kings of the Central. But they’ll one day need to overtake the Indians to get to the level they want to reach, and this collection of pitchers isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
This season alone, Indians pitchers have turned in eight double-digit strikeout performances against the White Sox.
Of course, the fearsome foursome of Cleveland pitchers should also give the White Sox plenty of hope. There’s a crowded list of names angling for spot in the rotation of the future on the South Side, which speaks to the pitching depth Rick Hahn has amassed in the farm system. Perhaps the likes of Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning can form a similarly talented group down the road.
Cleveland's captured three straight division titles. If the White Sox can form their own dazzling rotation, they'd be in position to attempt the same kind of feat.
But until that day comes, the Indians’ stellar starting staff will serve as a constant reminder of who the White Sox will need to pass on their planned journey to the top of the division and perennial contention.
The AL Central goes through Cleveland — for now, and perhaps for a while.