Good luck finding someone who thought the White Sox would be 1-4 after five games. Then again, good luck finding someone who thought Nicky Delmonico would be batting cleanup in the fifth game of the season.
But as angst over manager Rick Renteria’s lineups builds, don’t lose sight of the most concerning development over the first five games: the starting pitching.
“It's no secret -- we need our starters,” Renteria said after the White Sox were swept in a doubleheader against the Indians Tuesday.
In one trip through the rotation, White Sox starters allowed 22 runs (all earned) and 23 hits in 15.2 innings. That’s an ERA of 12.62.
And that’s factoring in a good start by Dallas Keuchel, who only allowed two runs and three hits in 5.1 innings in his White Sox debut.
Worse, Reynaldo Lopez only managed 0.2 innings before leaving with shoulder soreness and ending up on the 10-day injured list. He’ll be replaced by Gio González, who is expected to pitch Saturday in Kansas City.
Obviously, these results from the starting rotation aren’t going to cut it. Typically, it would be foolish to panic after just one trip through the rotation, but in 2020, it would be irresponsible not to have some forward thinking and be ready for changes.
"My personality, I don't panic very much. I'm not much of a panicker,” Renteria said. “What I will say is I went into the clubhouse and said, 'Hey guys keep your heads up. We've got to keep playing and tomorrow's another day.' It's just baseball and everybody knows that once you start running a little hot, a lot of things are forgotten. But we've got to do it, in order to forget what we want to forget."
If the White Sox were to repeat their performance from the first five games, they would be 2-8. If they did it again, they’d be 3-12. At that point, you can call 2020 a wash and hope there’s a COVID-19 vaccine available by the time pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Ariz. in February.
But this team has too much talent for that to happen – even in the starting rotation. So let’s instead take a rational look at each spot and see if there are any solutions:
RHP Lucas Giolito – Giolito allowed seven earned runs in just 3.2 innings against the Twins on Opening Day, but there’s still plenty of hope that he’ll be much better. The right-hander appeared to have good stuff on his breaking pitches, but couldn’t locate his fastball and that got him in trouble. Some shaky defense behind him didn’t help.
“We need a nice start tomorrow from Lucas,” Renteria said Tuesday night. “We're trying to stay optimistic and we believe that he's capable of doing it. Obviously, you guys have seen him do it. He's one of the guys that's helped us come out of spins before."
This might seem like an overreaction, but Wednesday’s start against the Indians is probably Giolito’s most important start in a White Sox uniform to date. The Indians are – thankfully – expected to throw Zach Plesac instead of Shane Bieber. It’s a game the White Sox badly need – and they’ll need their ace to perform well.
LHP Dallas Keuchel – Keuchel has looked great since he reported for camp and he delivered the team’s only victory in the first five games. He’s a steady, proven veteran and the White Sox will be looking for him to take care of the Royals in Kansas City on Friday.
RHP Reynaldo López/LHP Gio González – López was sort of a wild card coming into this season, so the White Sox were prepared to use González if needed. Unfortunately, González didn’t inspire much confidence in relief, giving up six earned runs and seven hits in 3.2 innings after López left with a shoulder injury. Perhaps he’ll do better in a much more familiar role as a starter, but it would also be shortsighted to think González is the same pitcher he once was.
Rookie Jimmy Lambert hasn’t allowed a run in two innings of relief so far and he looked very good in camp. If González struggles this weekend in Kansas City, the White Sox should be prepared to start Lambert or call up fellow rookie Dane Dunning from Schaumburg. The season is too short to mess around.
RHP Dylan Cease – Cease and Carlos Ródon are terribly important to the success of the 2020 season and that was pretty much proven in Tuesday’s doubleheader. Had it gone well, the White Sox could be 3-2 right now. Instead, they’re digging out of a 1-4 hole.
Cease allowed four earned runs in 2.1 innings and it could have been worse had reliever Jace Fry not induced a double play after Cease was pulled.
“Simply, it’s just strikes. More strikes. Commanding more effectively,” Renteria said after the game. “I expect he’s going to become an excellent Major League pitcher and he’s still in the process of doing that. I know we’re talking about him doing well in the summer camp and in spring, but he’s still going about his growth.”
In this case, there’s reason to be patient as Cease does have the stuff to succeed. But when it comes to making the playoffs in 2020, the development needs to happen in a hurry.
LHP Carlos Ródon – In his first official outing since Tommy John surgery, Ródon managed to tease his great stuff while also allowing five earned runs in just 3.2 innings. Unfortunately, that’s been the story of his White Sox career.
“Some of his stuff looked very good today,” Renteria said. “I know he gave up a homer. But he was throwing the ball, and we saw some sharpness to him, we saw some life to his fastball. I think he's on a good track.”
Ródon was on an understandable pitch count Tuesday as Renteria was hoping to get five innings and 75 pitches out of him. He left in the middle of the fourth inning at 71 pitches. Tommy John surgery is no joke, so I’m willing to give Ródon the benefit of the doubt here, but there certainly needs to be a sense of urgency.
“Keuchel had a tremendous start, so that kind of picked us up, but … it’s time for us other four to do our job,” Rodon said. “We’re the heart of the ballclub. We got to pitch better, that’s for sure.”
With 55 games remaining, the White Sox still have a chance to end their 12-year playoff drought. But that window will close in a hurry if the starters don’t improve. Quickly.