CHICAGO -- Pitching will be the driving force if the White Sox are to not only win the American League Central title but play postseason baseball deep into October.
That fact holds true for most playoff success stories. But the White Sox also have dealt with myriad significant injuries on the offensive side through the season’s first three months. And the staff has responded in a major way.
“The pitching staff as a whole -- and I’ve said this before -- as a whole, from five starters and seven or eight relievers that we have [or] whatever we have at the time, is the best that I’ve ever seen,” said starter Dallas Keuchel, who threw seven scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory over the Rays. “I know in 2018 [with Houston] we had the best five starters I’ve ever seen on a baseball field together. Here it’s just the complete package.”
Some pundits or fans might think Keuchel’s assessment is a bit of an early jump, with the White Sox having yet to reach the halfway point of this campaign. Then again, the statistics definitively back up the veteran southpaw.
Entering Wednesday’s series finale against the Rays, Chicago's 3.14 ERA ranks No. 1 in the AL. Its 2.93 ERA for the starting rotation also sits No. 1 in the AL, with Tampa Bay second in both categories.
Along with the No. 1 ERA, White Sox starting pitchers lead the AL with 30 wins, 427 strikeouts and opponents' average (.210), slugging percentage (.349) and OPS (.625). They rank second with 375 innings and a 1.09 WHIP. This rotation has allowed two runs or fewer in 45 of 67 games, with 14 scoreless outings, the most in the AL.
In thinking ahead to a potential playoff series, it’s difficult to separate the top three or four starters.
“This is what I signed up for,” Keuchel said. “I knew that after pitching against them with the Braves in ’19, we had a good shot of being a good team. But I didn’t know that Carlos was going to be healthy and be his true form, [and] Lance is obviously right there in consideration for Cy Young as well.
“When you have two guys vying for the Cy Young this early, you know you are on a pretty good track. Getting [Liam] Hendriks was a big-time plus.”
In his first year with the White Sox, closer Liam Hendriks leads the AL with 18 saves. He has recorded 46 strikeouts against three walks and allowed 21 hits over 29 1/3 innings.
Anderson on a roll
Tim Anderson, who won the AL batting title in 2019 and was second last season, makes it almost look easy when he gets in a groove as he has lately, hitting .371 with eight multihit performances over his last 16 games. But Anderson stresses it’s not easy.
“I’m just trying to be able to put the bat on the ball,” Anderson said. “Sometimes you don’t have to use the barrel to get hits.
“Just being able to get the job done. My job is to get on first and the guys behind me, it’s their job to drive me in. As long as I continue to do my job, it’s going to put us in a great position to win.”
Anderson continues to be the heart and soul of the team and a leader, as pointed out many times by manager Tony La Russa.
“It means a lot coming from the guy that’s in charge,” Anderson said. “The main thing is to continue to be me 110 percent.
“Not trying to do anything extra. Just come to the ballpark every day and being me and getting these guys ready to play. Push everybody and try to max everybody out every day.”
Third to first
• Third baseman Yoán Moncada, who missed the Rays series with a sinus infection, is expected to play Thursday in Houston.
• The White Sox have been in first place for 42 days and every day since May 7. It’s their longest run in one season since 2012, when they were in first for 126 days. Chicago didn’t reach the playoffs in ’12.
They said it
“He's keeping his head above water. He's got a lot of big hits. I know he's upset at times that he doesn't produce more, but I don't think anything messes with his brain, which is the most important part.” -- La Russa on rookie left fielder Andrew Vaughn