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Sox grades: Judging the South Side starting rotation

/ by Vinnie Duber
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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The Chicago White Sox' season ended in disappointment, much earlier than hoped.

But the team accomplished plenty during the 2021 campaign, winning the American League Central crown and playing playoff baseball on the South Side for the first time in 13 years. After years of rebuilding, there was indeed progress toward achieving the franchise's ultimate goal of winning a World Series championship.

At the same time, the expectations of reaching that goal this year were realistic back in the spring, and the White Sox fell well short. A sour AL Division Series loss to the Houston Astros resulted in the same number of postseason wins as the White Sox had a year earlier, before a managerial change and roster upgrades.

RELATED: How Sox could add to starting rotation this winter

So how should we judge these South Siders?

If we're just handing out grades for those four games in October, not many would receive a passing mark. But a baseball season is not four games long, and though the group disappointment was huge following a quick playoff exit, most of the players excelled during the regular season, setting up reason to believe that the White Sox can improve in 2022 and move closer to a championship.

Here's a player-by-player review of the 2021 campaign, starting with the starting rotation.

Lance Lynn: A

Lynn did exactly what he was supposed to do and more. The White Sox lost Game 3 of the AL Wild Card Series in 2020 because they didn't have a reliable third starting-pitching option to turn to. Lynn brought much needed stability and dependability to the starting staff, succeeding on the mound and leading in the clubhouse so much that the White Sox gave him a contract extension in the middle of the summer to keep him on the South Side.

 

Lynn, like the rest of his rotation-mates, couldn't get things done against the Astros in the ALDS, but he was certainly worthy of his Game 1 nod after turning in a Cy Young caliber regular season.

Lucas Giolito: A

Tony La Russa spent the second half explaining that Giolito was being too hard on himself in describing his first half as a disappointment. But whether he needed to or not, the ace of the South Side staff spent the second half dominating and rectifying what he viewed as a subpar performance in the regular season's first few months. Giolito looked every bit his "bully stage" self in mowing through contending lineups in August and September.

Giolito couldn't translate that success to the postseason, like he did a year earlier in a dominant performance in Oakland, but he's still got every White Sox fan rooting for a contract extension this winter.

Carlos Rodón: A

No one knew what Rodón would be able to give the White Sox when he showed up at spring training to compete for the fifth-starter job after being non-tendered a couple months earlier. But working with Ethan Katz and putting his significant arm injuries in the rear-view mirror, Rodón finally lived up to the hype of his draft position and turned in an electrifying campaign that featured a no-hitter and plenty of other nights when he had White Sox fans on no-hit watch.

Frustratingly, however, Rodón's health again became an issue down the stretch, an increased workload leading to persistent shoulder soreness that had him going more than a week between his final handful of starts. He suffered the same fate as his fellow starters in the postseason, but his excellent 2021 season could have the White Sox seeking an offseason reunion.

Dylan Cease: A

Like Rodón, what Cease would do in 2021 was a mystery, considering the not-so-great season he had a year earlier. But Cease, too, benefited from Katz's presence and had a true breakout campaign that ended with one of the highest single-season strikeout totals in franchise history.

The righty with what Giolito called "the best stuff in the big leagues" became a confidence-inspiring force on the mound and showed he can be a reason this rotation continues to be one of baseball's best into the future.

Dallas Keuchel: D-

Keuchel followed up his tremendous first season in a White Sox uniform with a clunker in 2021. He got a late start to spring training and never truly found his groove, be it because of bad luck on his typically effective ground balls or the most home runs he's ever given up in his career. Keuchel was ineffective to the point that he, the highest paid pitcher on the team, was left off the roster for the ALDS.

 

Keuchel has a history of swinging between great seasons and not-so-great ones, so it's plenty possible he can get back to his best self in 2022. But this year did not go well at all.

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