With strong staff, White Sox looking at bright future
Sale at the helm, southpaw-heavy rotation can be source of strength for years to come
CHICAGO -- The White Sox have won more games in August (16) than they have in any other month this season, and a big component of their recent success has been solid starting pitching.
After posting a 3.90 ERA from April through July, White Sox starters have a 3.60 mark so far this month. Their season ERA of 3.83 ranks third in the American League behind the Tigers and Red Sox, and their 77 quality starts have them ranked fourth in the league.
For a team that has had an unexpectedly trying season, a bright spot has been a talented young starting rotation that the White Sox look to build a contender around.
"In order to turn things around, I think everyone would agree that you start with pitching," said left-handed starter John Danks. "And I think we're able to cut the corner a little bit, because we've got some young, established guys that can be around for a long time and have a lot of success."
Danks -- who had a 4.60 ERA coming into August, but has posted a 3.15 mark in five starts this month -- added that one of the keys to success for the starters has been friendly competition within the group. When one of the five starters delivers a strong outing, the others take notice.
"We're all trying to outdo each other," Danks said. "We're all pulling for each other and we all want the best [for one another]. But when it's [my] turn, I want to do better than Hector [Santiago] did the day before. That's how we push each other, and it's been successful."
Santiago, who has given up only four earned runs in his last 17 1/3 innings, echoed Danks' sentiment.
"Every game after [Chris] Sale, I'm like, 'Thanks man, now you're putting pressure on me; [if] you go eight, I've got to go nine,'" said Santiago. "It's just a fun competition to try to go out there and say, 'Oh, you had nine strikeouts, [then] I'm going to try to get 10.' You feed off [each other] and it makes you better."
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is all for the intrastaff competition, saying it's a good source of motivation.
"I like that, because the best motivation comes from within," he said. "And if they're motivated by [the] others and try to outdo them, hey, I'm all for it."
With the only rotation in the Majors that features four lefties, the White Sox starting staff presents unique challenges to opposing lineups. It's especially true since two members -- Sale and Santiago -- rank second and third in AL ERA among left-handed starters at 2.99 and 3.14, respectively (though Santiago hasn't pitched enough innings as a starter to qualify among league leaders).
Sale, the staff ace, pointed out that there are a lot of opportunities for the southpaws on the staff to observe how fellow lefties pitch to opposing hitters in a series.
"Say we have four games against Kansas City and all four [lefties are] starting," Sale said. "You can kind of watch the game and see how John pitches or Hector pitches and not only learn from that, but also use things that we saw."
Santiago said he likes to talk to fellow starters between outings to pick their brains about how they approach certain hitters or situations. He admitted it's a little different when he talks to Sale.
"Me, Quintana and [Andre] Rienzo [talk to each other a lot]," Santiago said. "We just try to go out there and try to [learn] anything we can that will help us out there.
"Obviously, it's a different kind of game when you're asking Sale [versus] asking Quintana. I feel like me and Quintana are a little more similar, and Sale is just another breed. So trying to ask Sale is like trying to get information [about something] you can't do."
While the current staff has had success, it's unclear what the starting rotation will look like in 2014. Right-hander Erik Johnson has been impressive in the Minor Leagues, posting an 11-3 record with a 2.07 ERA in 23 starts split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte this season. He has a WHIP of 0.99 and has struck out 123 batters in 135 innings. A promotion of Johnson is expected as soon as Sunday, when rosters expand.
As for the current members of the rotation, Sale is under team control through 2017 with club options for '18 and '19, while fellow lefty Danks is signed through '16.
Danks, Sale and Santiago all agree that they've got a good thing going.
"I think everybody is really comfortable with each other and likes each other," Santiago said. "We're all throwing the ball really well right now, and you always want to kind of stay together as teammates. And [having] four lefties is just a tougher situation on [opponents]."
Sale agreed, adding that the way starters interact off the field is just as important as how they perform on it.
"It's exciting for us, not only because we like to play together, but because we're good buddies, too," Sale said. "Anytime you can have a good core group of guys, I think that's probably the most important thing is getting along well with each other.
"I think we do that. It's exciting moving forward knowing we could be here together for awhile."