Boston Red Sox

Three-headed monster: White Sox starters were dominant against Red Sox

Three-headed monster: White Sox starters were dominant against Red Sox

The White Sox closed out their series against the Boston Red Sox with a 5-2 win on Sunday afternoon at Fenway Park.

The highlight of the weekend? Starting pitching.

Dylan Covey, Carlos Rodon and Reynaldo Lopez combined for three earned runs and recorded 20 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. Not too shabby.

The series started off with Covey on the mound, who pitched six innings and had six strikeouts in a shutout win, outdueling former White Sox ace Chris Sale.

Rodon, making his season debut, followed that up the next day with seven strikeouts in five innings. He allowed four runs, though only two of them were earned. Despite the 4-2 loss, it was a solid outing for the 25-year-old southpaw coming back from significant shoulder surgery.

On Sunday, Lopez had another strong outing, registering seven strikeouts in 6.1 innings while allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits and three walks.

Here's a look at Lopez's numbers in his last five outings:

Pitching hasn't been a been a bright spot this season for the White Sox, but this weekend in Boston was definitely something to be encouraged about.

Carlos Rodon has encouraging season debut for White Sox

Carlos Rodon has encouraging season debut for White Sox

Carlos Rodon made his season debut on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park, and there was a lot to be encouraged about.

Pitching in the majors for the first time in 280 days due to a shoulder injury, Rodon looked great against the Boston Red Sox in a 4-2 loss. 

In five innings, he recorded seven strikeouts on six hits, four runs (two earned), and two walks. He tossed 97 pitches.

"(Rodon) threw the ball well," manager Rick Renteria said. "Worked through some jams. We didn't help him out very much, but he ended up grinding and getting through five innings. Looked free and easy, was able to execute some pitches, get himself out of some jams once again. A nice return for him.

"We didn't get a victory. He kept us in the game and we fell a little short. It's good to see Carlos back out on the hill."

Rodon didn't receive a whole lot of help from his defense to start the game. In the first inning, the White Sox recorded two fielding errors, which led to a Red Sox run.

Rodon also allowed a solo home run to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the second and a two-run homer to J.D. Martinez in the fifth, which broke the 2-2 tie. 

But the 25-year-old looked excellent for the most part, especially in the third and fourth inning, when he struck out six batters.

Needless to say, he was pretty fired up after that:

The White Sox will conclude their series with the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, with coverage beginning at 11:30 a.m. on NBC Sports Chicago.

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

There is no quick fix for what ails the Cubs offense.

Manny Machado would help. That much is certain.

But dropping one of the game's elite hitters into any lineup would help boost that team's offensive profile. The only question is: Would the long-term cost be worth it for a short-term gain?

Because Machado wouldn't cure everything with this Jekyll and Hyde Cubs offense.

After hammering Reds pitching in Cincinnati last weekend, the Cubs managed to score just 1 run against the Indians in 18 innings and they didn't even have to face Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco.

They went a combined 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

It was also the 42nd different lineup the Cubs have rolled out this season in 46 games.

That's been a point of contention for many, many fans wishing Joe Maddon would stick with one set lineup from 1-through-8 in the order. 

But that will never happen. 

For starters, this way does work. The 2016 Cubs boasted 130 different lineups throughout the course of the season and we all know how that year finished.

A set lineup also won't work because this isn't 1970 and some players are better than others for different matchups against opposing starting pitchers (like Albert Almora Jr. vs. left-handed pitchers and Jason Heyward vs. right-handed pitcher). Also, players need rest to ensure they'll be fresh for the stretch run in August and September and the postseason after that.

"It's such a non-sophisticated conversation," Maddon said. "I don't know how it begins. I've heard it from old baseball dudes — I think fathers pass it down to sons on occasion. It's like teaching your kid how to drive a stick shift; it just gets passed along.

"I try not to comment on it, because really, it's such a poor discussion. There's no sophistication to it whatsoever. It makes zero sense. It doesn't belong in today's game and actually it never belonged in anybody's game."

So what can the Cubs do to find more consistency on offense?

Honestly, not much beyond just continuing to develop. Remember, this is still a very, very young and inexperienced core of position players and growing pains are inevitable.

It's also the nature of the game right now with strikeouts way up and basehits down. 

Offense is naturally an ebb-and-flow, up-and-down kind of thing. Words like "feel" and "confidence" are thrown around so often because they matter.

But with the way baseball has gone, the peaks and valleys have become as prevalent as ever. Try to point to other teams right now that have had no trouble scoring runs on a consistent basis this season.

The Yankees are close, but that's one team. The Braves and Red Sox are the next two closest, but they're not without flaws.

Atlanta has scored just 3 runs in their last 3 games as they dropped a series to Jake Arrieta and the Phillies this week. The Red Sox haven't score more than 6 runs in a game since April 30.

It may seem like the Cubs are on a roller coaster all on their own, but that may just be because of HOW they go through valleys. 

The Cubs still struggle with runners in scoring position, ranking 26th in baseball in that area (.222 AVG). They rank 24th with runners in scoring position and 2 outs (.194 AVG).

But delve deeper and you'll see the Cubs actually rank near the top of baseball in RUNS in such situations. 

With guys in scoring position, they sit 5th in MLB wiith 168 runs. With guys in scoring position and 2 outs, they rank 6th in runs, ahead of the Yankees.

So they're giving themselves plenty of opportunity by getting guys on base and in scoring position often.

Another elite hitter would help things, sure. You could say that for any team in baseball.

But the simple fact of the matter is the Cubs are 4th in MLB in runs scored, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in OPS and 5th in SLG.

They do feast on poor teams and have trouble scoring against better opponents, but every team has that issue to some degree.

Getting Anthony Rizzo — whose 2018 OPS (.661) is almost 200 points below his career mark (.842) — back to his standard MVP-candidate level would certainly help matters, too.

The Cubs are on the right path — trying to use the whole field, hit the ball on a line more, make more contact — but it's not something that will become consistent parts of their respective offensive profiles overnight.

Maddon was actually OK with where his team was at before being shut out Wednesday night.

"I think a lot of guys are doing pretty well right now," Maddon said ahead of the Cubs' 1-0 loss. "...Overall, I kinda like what I'm seeing on the offensive side. I just think that OK, are we doing a better job of not chasing? I think so.

"Are we utilizing the opposite gap a little better? I think so. Strikeouts, I don't think anybody's overtly striking out too much right now. So I kinda like what we're doing with the bats. I kinda do. ... I think a lot of guys are starting to get it."

But there is still one area Maddon will never be satisfied with — getting runners home from third base with less than 2 outs.

"Of course," Maddon laughed, "I'm gonna talk about that for the next 10 years and I'm not gonna like it, probably."