The American League Division Series might have left a sour taste in Chicago White Sox fans' mouths when it came to the starting rotation.
But a look at the AL Cy Young vote reflects just how good the unit was during the regular season — and figures to be moving forward into 2022.
Lance Lynn, announced as a finalist for the award last week, led a quartet of White Sox hurlers who received votes in this year's balloting. The righty, who was magnificent in his first season on the South Side, finished third behind winner Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays and runner-up Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees.
Carlos Rodón (fifth), closer Liam Hendriks (eighth) and Lucas Giolito (11th) were the other three White Sox pitchers to place in the vote.
Over the course of the entire regular season, Lynn was the best of the bunch. Acquired an offseason ago, seemingly as a hired gun to help the White Sox chase their championship-level goals and in response to the way the 2020 AL Wild Card Series went, Lynn quickly established himself as a dominant, dependable presence and a leader in the clubhouse. He rapidly earned fan-favorite status, as well, his on-field performance combining with his personality to gain the admiration of the South Side faithful — a feeling that was very much mutual, by the way.
Lynn, who finished the regular season with a 2.69 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 157 innings, received a contract extension during the summer that could keep him in Chicago for another three seasons.
It was that contract extension that seemingly spelled the end of Rodón's White Sox tenure, but there's been plenty of offseason speculation about what it might take to keep the lefty around following a sensational 2021 campaign. Non-tendered last offseason before rejoining the White Sox on a one-year deal, Rodón was no lock to even win the fifth starter's job out of camp. But he ran away with the gig and turned out to be one of the team's most dominating pitchers, throwing a no-hitter in his second start of the season and putting folks on no-hit watch plenty of times after.
The lefty put his history of significant arm injuries behind him to post a 2.37 ERA and strike out 185 hitters in 132.2 innings. That final number wasn't bigger thanks to a persistent bout of late-season shoulder soreness that once again thrust Rodón's health into the spotlight. The White Sox opted not to make Rodón a qualifying offer after his spectacular season, sending the southpaw to free agency.
Hendriks, fresh off his second straight AL Reliever of the Year Award, again placed high in the Cy Young vote. The White Sox' biggest offseason splash last winter, the guy who eliminated them from the 2020 postseason lived up to the hype of his contract, turning in another campaign as one of baseball's elite ninth-inning men.
After back-to-back seasons of sub-2.00 ERAs, his still quite good 2.54 number indicates that things weren't exactly perfect — illustrated by the 11 homers he gave up and the memorable struggles against the New York Yankees in August — but he still led the AL with 38 saves and showed his dominance with a remarkable September, in which he made 13 scoreless appearances.
While Lynn and Rodón starred, Giolito managed to fly somewhat under the radar despite him backing up his ace status with another strong season and particularly epic efforts against top competition. After a first half that did not live up to his high personal standards, Giolito was especially excellent after the All-Star break, posting a 2.65 ERA in 13 second-half starts.
All told, Giolito had a 3.53 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 178.2 innings, placing in the top 11 in the Cy Young vote for the third consecutive season.
While four straight clunkers by White Sox starters in the ALDS was enough to send plenty of fans begging for a starting-pitching shake up this winter, the South Siders are still set to boast a strong staff in 2022 after claiming the best one in the AL during the 2021 regular season. Lynn and Giolito are set to return, as is Dylan Cease, who struck out more batters than all of them, ranking third in the AL with 226 Ks. And while Dallas Keuchel struggled in his second season in a White Sox uniform, he's just a year removed from a fifth-place finish in this same Cy Young vote and could be primed for a bounce back.