The first four games of this season sucked. Luckily, the White Sox are going to be a tough team to keep on a lengthy losing streak at any point, thanks to their strong top-end of the rotation.
The series to kick off the season in Kansas City was brutal. That was the Royals’ series, and it didn’t matter who was coming to town. The Sox hit a bit of a buzz saw there, and didn’t do themselves many favors en route to a season-opening sweep and an eventual 0-4 start at the hands of the Minnesota Twins.
But come the weekend, it was time to for the Twins to face the Sox’ top dogs, Jeff Samardzija, making his second start of the year, and Chris Sale, who was ready for his return from a brief stint on the DL.
After struggling in Spring Training and on Opening Day in KC, Samardzija got off to another rough start on Saturday, allowing four runs in the top of the second inning. As had been the case to that point, “The Shark” simply wasn’t locating his pitches well enough to avoid big hits.
But after fanning Joe Mauer to escape further damage and put an end to that inning, Samardzija showed some emotion, which just may have been the spark the south siders needed.
This game and maybe this week turned in the bottom of the second inning, maybe with Samardzija’s scream as he walked off the mound
— Scott Merkin (@scottmerkin) April 11, 2015
The Sox scored each of next three times they came to bat, tying the game at four and eventually winning it with timely hitting and great pitching late.
At that point, in the team’s fifth game of the season, I don’t think any of us cared how it happened; we just needed to see the team get on the board, which they were able to find a way to do despite being behind early. And a little momentum is all the momentum you need when you’ve got Chris Sale returning to the bump the next afternoon.
Fresh off the DL, Chris Sale looked like, well, Chris Sale. When he’s on, he’s special … and he was on Sunday. Over six innings (and an very efficient 98 pitches – 72 for strikes), he fanned eight Twins hitters and let up one run on just five hits and one walk. He got his fastball up to 98 MPH, so at this point, there seems to be no reason to believe he’s anything less than 100% healthy, which the American League is probably not too thrilled about. The Sox eventually won the rubber match, 6-2.
What makes me really excited for the White Sox of 2015 is that they’ll never have to depend on any one or two players too much. Sure, Sale and Shark are going to be expected to help carry the team to victory two out of every five games, but with others like David Robertson holding down the back-end of the bullpen and a potentially lethal 1-5 (and some may argue 6 or 7) in the lineup, the Sox have plenty of guys that can help you win a ball game on any given day.
Though when it comes to leading the ball club to victory, Sale and Samardzija probably are the club’s two main leaders. And that’s only due partially to the performance we expect from them each time they take the mound … it’s also because they are as fierce of competitors as you’ll ever come by.
I always loved the 1-2 punch of Sale and Jake Peavy a few years back. Unfortunately, Peavy’s better years didn’t intersect much with Sale’s, but even though Peavy was past his prime, I always thought it was great to have such a reliable bulldog and workhorse behind Sale in the rotation. They really fed off of each other’s energy. And I love the Sale-Shark 1-2 punch for the same reason. When they take the mound, they expect to will the White Sox to victory, and they’re going to leave everything they have out there on the mound. Not to mention, from a talent perspective, they’ve got the potential to be a top-two or three 1-2 punch in the game.
Sure, we’re going to need to see more consistency out of the bullpen, something on offense from Adam Eaton, and for the back-end of the rotation to pull its weight. But after the lift that Shark and Sale provided for the Sox this weekend and Jose Quintana set to take the bump in Cleveland on Tuesday night, things are finally lookin’ up for the good guys.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images