Just under two months into the season, the White Sox have a 21-20 record. Despite hovering around .500 in a rocky start to the season and currently being in second in the American League Central Division, the White Sox have shown their ceiling. That is a World Series caliber roster.
Moreover, one of the pleasant surprises has been the starting pitching. The pitching staff was expected to be good this year and it has exceeded expectations. The starters not only can carry the team this season but they allow the roster to still look like one of the best in the MLB. Even if the offense continues to struggle like it has to start this year.
Cease becoming the White Sox Ace
Dylan Cease emerging as the ace of the staff was the default at first. With Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn both being sidelined to injury, the next best pitcher in the rotation was Cease. However, eight starts into the season, the White Sox have not only seen the 26-year-old starter step up but become one of the best pitchers in the MLB.
Cease has a mind-boggling 67 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched while allowing only 15 runs. In addition, the .181 expected opponent Batting Average (xBA), .313 expected opponent Slugging Percentage (xSLG), and 2.24 expected ERA are among the best in the game. Yet, Cease’s pitching goes beyond the numbers, which don’t tell the full story. The stats can only hint that he allows weak contact when contact is made altogether that is.
The right-handed starter has mastered the fastball-slider combination while mixing in the curveball effectively. All three pitches give the batters different looks and most notably, are all well-located in the strike zone. The fastball often hits the high part of the strike zone (thus often being labeled as high heat or a rising fastball). The off-speed and breaking pitches meanwhile often dip in the strike zone but have also often hung this year for higher strikes as well.
Dylan Cease, Parachute 76mph Changeup and 97mph Fastball sequence pic.twitter.com/UsyMSJnlEH
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 17, 2022
Cease has been in command of his pitches this season and when dialed in has been unhittable. The White Sox suddenly have another ace in their rotation who can outduel just about any other pitcher in the league. The expectation was for Cease to remain a strong option in the rotation but instead, the team has been treated to Cy Young Award caliber starts.
Kopech’s breakout year
After years of setbacks, injuries, and mounting pressure as one of the best prospects in the system, Michael Kopech has finally stepped up and settled into the rotation. Kopech has been on an innings count but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming of the team’s most reliable starters.
For what it’s worth, Kopech is leading the White Sox with a 2.2 WAR to start the season. However, aside from that numbers, Kopech has found his pitches, particularly the fastball. The high 90s fastball that can locate all four quadrants of the strike zone has become unhittable, as it was against the New York Yankees in seven scoreless innings with only one hit and six strikeouts.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) May 23, 2022
Sunday night’s game was a statement for him, one that put the young pitcher on the map in front of the national audience. However, the whole season, fans have seen firsthand what Kopech is capable of. He has refined his other pitches, which ultimately, have made his fastball even better. The White Sox have seen Kopech finally become a reliable starter but more importantly, provide the team with high-caliber starts, something the 26-year-old looks to provide for years to come.
White Sox getting a pleasant surprise in Cueto
Johnny Cueto made his season debut last week against the Kansas City Royals, pitching six scoreless innings. The White Sox added him initially into the rotation to help out the backend of the pitching staff and hopefully, give the other pitchers more rest. Cueto proved he’s going to provide more than that as he pitched another six scoreless innings against the Yankees.
Throughout his career, Cueto has made a living messing with the hitter’s timing. The quick pitch, the shimming, the hesitation, and everything in between gives Cueto a unique edge. Even with his pitches dwindling, the 36-year-old veteran can still control the game on the mound.
Johnny Cueto, Messing with Timing. 😀 pic.twitter.com/4VxxhUKnkK
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 17, 2022
This season, Cueto has particularly relied on his sinker and slider, two off-speed pitches. Cueto has thrown the two pitches 69.3% of the time this season and has rarely gone the heater. The White Sox rotation suddenly is rounded off with a reliable arm and is a deep staff that can keep the team hot.
Why the White Sox rotation is significant?
The White Sox lineup has struggled to start the season, scoring only 3.61 runs per game. The batting order is expected to improve, especially when Eloy Jimenez returns, but even with the struggles, the team is being kept afloat with the starting pitching. In baseball, momentum is only as good as the next starting pitcher and for the White Sox, it means that any losing streak only lasts so long.
In addition, the rotation allows the White Sox to eventually pile on the wins. This is a staff that has yet to see Giolito at his best while Lynn is still recovering from injury. The healthy rotation gives the White Sox the ability to not only get hot but stay hot in what could be a tight race with the Minnesota Twins for the division.
The strong rotation carried the White Sox to the playoffs last season. The team lost to the Houston Astros in the Divisional Series, depriving fans of seeing what the rotation was capable of in a postseason run. This year, the White Sox has that type of rotation. This team has a staff that can reliably win a playoffs series and possibly more. Assuming of course the team can reach the playoffs.
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