The White Sox won in walk-off fashion Wednesday night, a relieving if not exactly representative conclusion to a long day of baseball on the South Side.
Yonder Alonso was in a do-or-die situation, the White Sox down a run with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. He delivered, despite coming into the doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles the owner of a .190 batting average. Not exactly what the White Sox thought he'd do when they acquired him in a December trade with the division-rival Cleveland Indians. For one night, he got to be the hero instead of a to-this-point disappointing addition. He'll have plenty more chances to turn around his briefly established reputation with White Sox fans. Wednesday was a nice start, Alonso putting a single in the outfield and bringing home the tying and winning runs. Cue the celebration.
But there was little to celebrate Wednesday before that moment, a few big hits from the red-hot Jose Abreu aside, another disappointing scene against an Orioles team again in last place after losing 115 games in 2018. The White Sox dropped two of three in Baltimore a week ago. Though they won Monday night at Guaranteed Rate Field, they looked destined for the same fate Wednesday until Alonso's hit. A 3-3 record against the cellar-dwelling Orioles isn't good. But it's better than a 2-4 record against them.
The White Sox blew a 4-0 lead in Game 1, Carlos Rodon falling apart in the fourth inning after three good-looking ones. He threw 41 pitches in that one inning, ballooning his total to 89 by the time Rick Renteria came to get him with just 3.2 innings under his belt. It was a disappointing follow-up performance to the three innings he managed last Friday. He gave up eight runs to the Detroit Tigers that day. Wednesday, the damage was only three. But he couldn't provide his team with the depth it so desperately needs from its starting staff right now. After his first five starts of the season, he had the best numbers on the team, a 2.89 ERA. After 11 runs allowed in 6.2 innings in just two starts, his ERA has jumped up to 5.19.
On top of all that, Renteria said after Game 1 that Rodon apparently has a blister he deals with every time he pitches, a concerning revelation and one Rodon couldn't expand on considering he didn't speak with reporters Wednesday.
Starting pitching remained a problem in Game 2. Ivan Nova delivered a little bit of depth, a plus for Renteria after he used five guys out of his bullpen in the first game. But in his 5.2 innings, Nova allowed five runs, four of them coming on a pair of home runs. He's allowed six homers in his six starts, and asked after the game how he'd describe his outing, he replied with a succinct "bad" before going into some more specifics.
The White Sox can't seem to solve their starting-pitching woes, and though Renteria is hopeful things will turn around, he's not shy about admitting he needs to see more from that unit.
"We've talked about have we been happy with the rotation, how it's been going. It hasn't been going well," Renteria said after Game 2. "And I'll repeat: not because they're not trying to do well, not because they're not preparing, not because they're not doing what they're supposed to do try to put themselves in a good position to execute. It just hasn't manifested itself.
"I'm still expecting that they're going to do what we expected them to do from the outset of the season. Hopefully it starts coming to play a little sooner rather than later. The relief corps has done its best to try to make up for that to a certain extent, but at the end of the day everybody starts to realize how important starting pitching is. It's the key to any good club and their chances of having success."
Though Rodon coughed up three runs before exiting Game 1 earlier than anticipated, he did exit with a lead, so the bullpen can't be taken completely off the hook here, either. Jace Fry gave up the tying run in the seventh inning, and Kelvin Herrera allowed the go-ahead run in the eighth. It wasn't as egregious a meltdown as the White Sox have had this season, certainly. But in ticking of the day's unfortunate events, this needs to be on the list.
More glaring, though, was the defense, which accounted for four errors in the two games. It's worth noting that the Orioles played even worse, charged with five errors on the day. But the White Sox had their troubles, Tim Anderson charged with two errors in a three-batter span in Game 2. First, he couldn't come up with what he hoped would be a double-play ball, then a sliding base runner at second base forced him into a very wide throw as he attempted to complete another would-be double play. It cost the White Sox the tie-breaking run in that inning, and only Alonso's hit bailed Anderson out when the bottom of the ninth rolled around.
Anderson is having a spectacular start to the season at the plate and is making headlines for all sorts of reasons. He's a prime candidate to earn AL Player of the Month honors when they're announced Thursday. But the fielding improvements he made at the end of last season haven't dropped the number of errors in the beginning of this season, and he's already got eight of them through his first 25 games of the campaign. If he plays in the remainder of the White Sox games this season, he's on pace to commit 50 errors. That's not going to fly.
He wasn't alone, though. In Game 1, James McCann fired a ball down the left-field line in Game 1, allowing a run to come home, and Jose Ruiz dropped a ball while covering first base. Combine it with one infield miscue after another from the Orioles — including a head-scratching decision by catcher Austin Wynns in Game 2, when he fired a dropped third strike to an uncovered second base with two outs in the second inning — and it was an ugly thing to watch.
But the Orioles matching the White Sox error-for-error was another unfortunate reminder of how a White Sox team that talked so much about increased expectations during spring training shouldn't be stuck in slopfests with the worst teams in the game. While 3-3 looks a lot better than 2-4, splitting the season series with an Orioles team that once more looks destined for triple-digit defeats is hardly an accomplishment. If the White Sox were truly a team that deserved raised expectations, that deserved their request to focus on the present as much as the future to be fulfilled, then they shouldn't be playing like this against the Orioles.
Baltimore's pitching staff is the game's worst. It has a 5.89 ERA, the highest in baseball, after Wednesday's twin bill. The Orioles have allowed 74 home runs, more than 20 more than the next worst offenders in that category. And yet the White Sox lineup had a stretch of 11 straight hitters retired in a one-run game during Game 2. In the last six innings of Game 1, they mustered three hits, all singles, and no runs.
Does that spell improvement? Does that meet those preseason expectations? No one was planning on an October surprise. But plenty were banking on this team to be significantly better than the Orioles. Significantly better than the Kansas City Royals. Significantly better than the Tigers. The White Sox just wrapped a stretch of 14 straight games against those three teams. They went 8-6. That's better than the inverse, sure. But how much better?
Wednesday night's walk-off win in Game 2 was a positive, no doubt about it. The victory music was playing in the clubhouse. It was a nice reward for a long day at the park. It sure as hell was better than losing and better than getting swept in a doubleheader by one of the worst teams in baseball. But, given how they played for so much of the day, how much better?Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.