The Chicago White Sox dropped the final two games of a three-game series with the Boston Red Sox to lower their record to 8-8 after 16 games. Over the past two days, White Sox fans have witnessed arguably the most boring and most exciting games of the season. Wednesday night’s 5-hour, 14 inning marathon was brutally painful to watch as the White Sox issued 15 walks on the night. Last night’s game featured one of the best pitching duels of the young season with Chris Sale and Jon Lester both carrying no hitters into the sixth inning.
What else has happened in the past week?
The most talked about issue with this team continues to be the problems in the bullpen. As mentioned, Wednesday’s performance was one to forget, but unfortunately it hasn’t been the only one. After 16 games, the White Sox bullpen owns a staggering 6.48 ERA and alarming 1.82 WHIP in 50 innings pitched. Relievers Scott Downs (10.80 ERA), Ronald Belisario (12.91 ERA), and Donnie Veal (7.50 ERA) have been the main culprits of the disastrous start. Veal has been since sent down and Zach Putnam has been recalled from the minors, so hopefully he can add something to the group. But, in order for this bullpen to be effective, Downs, Belisario, and even Matt Lindstrom need to perform better to provide veteran stability. The good news is that youngsters Daniel Webb, Jake Petricka, and Maikel Cleto have been reliable for the most part. In addition to that, Webb has emerged as the most effective option in the bullpen, and I believe it is just a matter of time before he ascends into the closer’s role. Lastly, the absence of Nate Jones has had a tremendous negative effect to the bullpen. Whether Jones is pitching in the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning, the White Sox expected him to be one of their best relievers. Robin Ventura said today that Jones’ back injury might now be worse than what they had originally thought and offered no timetable for his return. Hopefully, Jones will be back in a few weeks and he can help everyone settle into their roles. If not, this is going to continue to be a problem all year long.
After all that negative talk, it is time for some encouraging news and that comes from the performance that starting pitcher Erik Johnson delivered on Tuesday versus the Boston Red Sox. The young right-hander was brilliant during his 6.2 innings of work by allowing just one run and striking out nine batters. After two dismal efforts to start the season, Johnson’s outing was a pleasant surprise. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and John Danks all pitching well, the White Sox would have a formidable starting rotation if Johnson can improve on each start.
With one half of the pair of struggling hurlers finding his rhythm, the pressure is now on Felipe Paulino to follow suit. Paulino will take the mound tonight versus the Texas Rangers in Arlington, and he will have to be at the top of his game to hold a potent Rangers’ lineup intact. I have my doubts that he will be able to do so this evening, but I am not ready to write him off just yet. I would imagine the White Sox will give Paulino every chance there is to get going, and I wouldn’t expect a move to replace him for at least another month.
As good as Jose Abreu was to start the season, the first baseman is really struggling over his last several games. The Cuban slugger is in the midst of 1-for-21 slump and has seen his average fall to .213. Even with the red-hot start, we all knew that Abreu would face some hard times as soon as pitchers figured out a weakness to his approach. Opposing pitchers have had their way with Abreu by getting him to swing and miss at low off-speed stuff. As a result, his strikeout totals have increased and obviously his production has suffered. Having said that, I fully expect Abreu to make the proper adjustments in the coming days and end this slump. In my opinion, Abreu is taking too many fastballs early in the count and falling behind, allowing pitchers to throw him junk. Since the beginning of spring training, Abreu has made a conscientious effort to work counts and see as many pitches as possible in order to learn the style of pitching in the major leagues. While that is a great approach to start with, I think Abreu needs to start being more aggressive early in the counts and drive the ball into the gaps. Let’s see if he can get back on track in the hitters’ friendly ballpark this weekend.
With Abreu facing some struggles, the White Sox offense has slowed down a bit, but the hot starts by Alexei Ramirez and Tyler Flowers have continued to this point. Ramirez is batting .381 with four home runs and 14 RBI, while Flowers is hitting at a .395 clip with a homer and six runs batted in. Having these two players at the bottom of the order has really helped the lineup turnover, and it has allowed leadoff man Adam Eaton to rack up 10 RBI in 16 games. While I don’t expect either player to continue their torrid pace, it is worth noting that Tyler Flowers really looks like a different hitter this season. Flowers talked about how he tweaked his batting stance late last year and he said he has never felt more comfortable at the dish. I’m curious to see if this is really the case, because it will be a huge for the future of this club if Flowers is an option at catcher going forward.
Lastly, Gordon Beckman appears ready to return to the club sometime next week. I’d imagine that Beckham will be reinserted as the starting second baseman, but it will be interesting to see how his return impacts the roster. Leury Garcia will likely be the odd-man out and get sent back to Triple-A Charlotte, and Marcus Semien will take over as the utility infielder. Even though Beckham will have his job back, he won’t have much room for error with Semien breathing down his neck.