White Sox Starting Pitching, Bullpen Fantastic To Start the Season

Apr 11, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher James Shields (33) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

White Sox starting pitching having solid start to 2017 season. Will South Siders be able to withstand early injuries to key starters?

The Chicago White Sox entered the 2017 season with a major point of concern on the pitchers’ mound. Last season, the Sox finished 14th in MLB in team ERA, opponents’ batting average, losses and wins. The Sox finished 17th in bullpen ERA. To make matters even more concerning, the Sox front office dealt one of the best pitchers to ever don a White Sox uniform in All-Star Chris Sale, in addition to injuries to key players like Carlos Rodon and now Zach Putnam and James Shields.

The Sox front office and coaching staff left the pitching rotation in the very capable hands of Colombian All-Star Jose Quintana, who had his best season as a big leaguer in 2016. However, replacing a pitcher like Sale is more difficult than it seems. Sale was absolutely dominant and filthy, posting a sub-3.45 ERA with at least 200 strikeouts, a strikeout rate of at least 9.25 per nine innings, and an opponent batting average of .233 or lower in the last four consecutive seasons.

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Quintana had humongous shoes to fill and struggled to start the season. However, after an 0-4 start, Quintana had his best start of the season on Wednesday against the Royals. Quintana notched his first victory while allowing two earned runs and recording 10 strikeouts. He lowered his ERA to 5.22 with the win.

In addition to Quintana’s early season woes, Rodon was sent to the disabled list before the start of the season with shoulder bursitis without a timetable for a return very early on this season. Rodon was projected to have a strong season in a rotation that he’s expected to have a larger role in for the next few seasons, but he’s only made one start during Spring Training

Despite the White Sox coming into this season without their ace Sale, their new ace Quintana struggling early, and one of their key pitchers in Rodon being out for an extended period of time, both their starting pitching and bullpen has been spectacular this season.

The White Sox starting pitchers, with exception of the staff ace Quintana, have had many stellar performances. Beginning with the No. 2 starter of the rotation, Shields has been great in 2017 as he looks to have a bounce back season after a horrible 2016. He’s currently 1-0 in three starts, with only three runs allowed, a 1.62 ERA, and 16 strikeouts in 16.2 innings pitched. Shields was unfortunately placed on the 10-day DL with a strained right lat last week.

Following Shields is the newcomer Derek Holland. Holland arrived from Texas with a very good resume against AL Central teams and his success against such teams has continued. Holland went 2-0 and only allowed 1 earned run on 4 hits in two starts against the defending AL Champion Indians. Holland is currently 2-2 this season and is sporting a 1.99 ERA.

Miguel Gonzalez has been pitching more like an ace than the No. 4 starter this season, going 3-0 in four starts, only allowing six earned runs, striking out 20 with a 2.00 ERA. Gonzalez’s last two starts were superb. He went through the first five innings of both games without allowing a single hit. He pitched at least eight innings and only allowed one run on six total hits in those starts. He also only walked two total batters in both games.

Even rookie Dylan Covey had a strong debut, allowing only one run in five innings against the Twins. He had a tough game against the Yankees however, giving up eight earned on three long balls to the Baby Bombers.

The White Sox starters are ranked fourth in the MLB in ERA and opponents’ batting average, and rank third in earned runs. In addition to the strong performances of the starters, the bullpen has been one of the best in the MLB. Led by Putnam, Anthony Swarzak, and Dan Jennings, the Sox relievers have been close to unhittable.

The White Sox bullpen has been busy this season, having seven relievers with at least six innings pitched or more this season. Of those seven relievers, Putnam, Swarzak, Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson have been lights out. Swarzak, with an ERA of 0.00 with 12 strikeouts over 9 innings pitched, retired 17 hitters in row over a stretch of five games.

Putnam returned from a season-ending injury last season and was great in the seven games he’s pitched in 2017 compiling a 1.04 ERA in 8.2 innings pitched. Again unfortunately, Putnam was placed on the 10-day DL with inflammation in his right elbow. Meanwhile, Jennings has been superb in the bullpen as he has a 0.96 ERA through 9.1 innings pitched.

Kahnle, who spent some time in the big leagues last season, is also enjoying a great stretch of pitching performances. Kahnle’s numbers are nearly identical to Robertson’s, who has also been great this season. Kahnle has a 1.29 ERA through seven innings pitched. Robertson is five for five in save opportunities with a 1.17 ERA through eight relief appearances.

While a lot of the pitching success is tied to the very strong defense the Sox have on the field, the team owes their success to a balanced usage between the starters and the relievers. Both facets of the team’s pitching are not being stressed or strained by extended outings, and all of those zeros put on the scoreboard, whether by a starter or reliever, is building up the confidence that many of these pitchers need to maximize their production.

Next: Jose Quintana Helps White Sox Sweep Royals

If the Sox pitching can continue to surprise and maintain this level of brilliance, fans should expect a better season than the one everyone expected the Sox to have. The Sox offense will need to make up the rest for the wins to keep piling up but after Wednesday’s game, the Sox have scored 28 runs in the last three games. So maybe a successful year is not completely out of the question.