Split in Houston gives the White Sox a promising start to season
By Joe Santoro
The Chicago White Sox had a very promising start to the 2023 Major League season. Almost everyone had a good moment. These are some grades for the team following their opening weekend:
- Starting pitching: A
The White Sox couldn't have asked for better starting pitching for four games on the road against the defending World Series champions. Dylan Cease, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Mike Clevinger were all in mid-season form, combining to hold the Astros to 13 hits and five earned runs over 22 innings.
All four starters went at least five innings (Giolito, Clevinger) with Cease going 6.1 innings on opening night and Lynn lasting 5.2 innings in the second game on Friday. The only starter that left the game while trailing was Cease on Thursday (1-0) in an eventual 3-2 victory.
The four starters combined to strike out 30 and walk just eight. Cease fanned 10 and didn't walk a hitter.
- Bullpen: D
The White Sox bullpen, just four games into the season, is a major cause for concern. Nothing was easy for anyone that came out of the bullpen in the four games.
The bullpen, as expected early in the season, did get a workout in the four-game series. Eight White Sox relievers combined to make 15 appearances and pitch 12 innings.
Not much of it was efficient, pretty, or encouraging for a bullpen trying to adjust to life without closer Liam Hendriks for the time being.
Only two of the relievers (Aaron Bummer and Jimmy Lambert) escaped the four games without allowing an earned run. Bummer (1.2 innings) and Lambert (one inning) also did not allow a hit.
Everyone else that came out of the pen struggled, including new closer Reynaldo Lopez and Kendall Graveman. Lopez did pitch the ninth inning in the two victories but made White Sox fans sweat it out both times.
The right-hander gave up a run in the ninth in the 3-2 win on Thursday and then allowed two runs in the ninth in the 6-3 win on Sunday. He also gave up three hits and three walks in his two innings.
Lopez only walked 11 and allowed one home run all last season in 65.1 innings and was clearly not that same pitch in Houston. The pressure of pitching the ninth might have been a factor.
Graveman pitched a scoreless eighth on Thursday but was slapped around for three runs and a pair of walks on Friday while getting just two outs in a 6-3 loss.
Joe Kelly and Jake Diekman each made just one appearance but neither could escape harm. The two veterans combined to allow two earned runs in 1.1 innings.
The Chicago White Sox had a very promising weekend to begin the year.
- Infield: B +
Yoan Moncada's slump might finally be over.
The third baseman picked up against the Astros where he left off in last month's World Baseball Classic while playing for Cuba. Moncada was a force against the Astros, going 8-for-18 (.444) with two home runs and four RBI. His 17 total bases also led the team.
Moncada homered on both Saturday and Sunday and also ripped three doubles. He committed the only Sox error of the series but made several strong plays at third.
Shortstop Tim Anderson also was solid against the Astros, going 7-for-18 (.389) with two doubles and an RBI. Anderson also stole two bases and scored three runs. The aggressive Anderson also was uncharacteristically patient at the plate, getting two of the White Sox's six walks in the series.
Second baseman Elvis Andrus didn't do much with the bat in the series, going just 2-for-16. But he did handle 10 chances without an error and took part in three double plays while playing second base for the first time in his major league career.
First baseman Andrew Vaughn was 3-for-11 in three games with two doubles and three RBI.
- Outfield: C +
Center fielder Luis Robert only drove in one run in the four games but it came on an important home run in Sunday's 6-3 victory. Robert, who made an outstanding catch against the center field fence on Saturday, was 5-for-19 in the four games (.263) and didn't walk once while striking out six times.
Left fielder Andrew Benintendi's first series with the White Sox produced just three singles, a double, and a walk. Benintendi was just 4-for-18 and didn't drive in a run.
Rookie Oscar Colas had a solid debut with five hits in 14 at-bats (.417). He even stole a base.
Just one of the right fielder's hits (a double on Sunday), though, went for extra bases but it did drive in a run for his only RBI. Colas struck out three times and didn't walk.
- Designated hitter: C
Eloy Jimenez had a start and finish to the four-game series he'd like to forget. He went 0-for-5 on both Thursday and Sunday with five strikeouts combined.
The White Sox, though, won both games despite Jimenez going 0-for-10 combined.
Jimenez was very productive in the second and third games, even though the Sox lost both games. He was 3-for-7 in the two games combined with three RBI and two walks.
- Catcher: A +
Yasmani Grandal quickly made White Sox fans forget his frustrating 2022 season.
The White Sox catcher was 5-for-12 (.417) in three games with a home run and two walks. His blast in the eighth inning on Thursday produced the first Sox run of the season.
Grandal also had three hits and a walk in Sunday's 6-3 win and was 1-for-4 on Friday. It was only last season when Grandal hit just .202 with five homers and 27 RBI in 99 games.
Seby Zavala went 2-for-3 on Saturday with a two-run homer that gave the Sox a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning.
- Overall: B +
All things considered, the White Sox should be thrilled with gaining a split in one of the toughest places to play in the American League.
The starting pitching was brilliant, the defense was solid, there were few base running mistakes, and the Sox could have won all four games with better relief pitching.
The entire series had a postseason feel to it. Maybe it was because the Astros unveiled their 2022 World Series banner and got their rings. But the White Sox didn't wilt under the spotlight at all.
It wasn't perfect. The bullpen was a mess as Lopez didn't look anything remotely close to being a lockdown closer. But neither did anyone else out of the pen. Expect the Sox to continue to experiment in this area.
But more than anything else, the three biggest reasons for optimism to come out of the Houston series were the performances of Moncada, Grandal, and Colas.
Both Moncada and Grandal suffered through awful, injury-filled seasons a year ago. But if the four games in Houston are any indication, the two might be the run producers the Sox have been looking for.
Colas, a rookie, went up against one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball and he performed well. He also seems to play with a joyful energy that this team clearly lacked a year ago.