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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

What’s clicking for the Chicago White Sox? ‘Our starting pitching has been the key to this whole thing’ – The Mercury News

The Chicago White Sox pieced together a remarkable rally April 30 against the Tampa Bay Rays, scoring seven runs in the ninth for a memorable 12-9 victory at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Andrew Vaughn capped the comeback with a game-ending, three-run homer.

The win snapped a 10-game losing streak. And the Sox are 14-9 since, the best record in that span in an American League Central in which almost every team is looking to find its footing.

While still in fourth place and nine games under .500 (21-30) entering Thursday’s series opener against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, the Sox had made up 3½ games on the first-place Minnesota Twins since April 30 and were 5½ games behind.

“We were talking about it (Tuesday) night, it’s crazy we went through a 10-game losing streak and had a lot of injuries early on and haven’t even come close to playing to our potential, yet we’re only 5½ back,” left fielder Andrew Benintendi told the Tribune on Wednesday in Cleveland. “We’re just scratching the surface and a lot of work to do still and a long way to go. We’re trending in the right direction.”

The Sox have won their last three series, taking two of three against the Guardians at both Guaranteed Rate Field and Progressive Field. In between, they swept the Kansas City Royals at home.

“We’ve been getting more timely hits of late,” Benintendi said. “The pitchers are going deeper into games, which in turn gives the bullpen a little less workload. A lot of things are starting to come together.”

It all starts with the starters.

In the last 13 games before Thursday, Sox starters had a 2.37 ERA, .193 opponents average and 65 strikeouts. They ranked first in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and opponents average and second in ERA during that span.

“Our starting pitching has been the key to this whole thing,” manager Pedro Grifol said before Thursday’s game. “They’re giving us quality starts. Our bullpen is extremely talented. We have a nice little rotation going (with the relievers) where we have more than a couple leverage guys, so we’re able to give guys rest, keep them sharp. It’s amazing what starting pitching does.”

As an entire staff, the Sox have a 3.53 ERA since April 30, fifth in the majors. They had a 5.88 ERA during their 7-21 start. The bullpen has a 2.49 ERA in May, ranking second in the majors. And closer Liam Hendriks will continue his work toward returning with a live bullpen session Friday.

Sox starters had 10 quality starts in the last 13 games before Thursday, providing length to keep the bullpen rested.

“Starting pitching keeps you in the game,” Grifol said. ”You’re always thinking you have a chance to win. The energy stays up. It’s all predicated on starting pitching. They’re doing a really good job.”

Michael Kopech has been the standout lately. The right-hander has allowed three hits and one walk with 19 strikeouts in 15 scoreless innings over his last two starts. He is the first pitcher in franchise history to record back-to-back outings of seven-plus scoreless innings while allowing two or fewer hits, one or no walks and striking out at least nine.

“I don’t think we’ve been shy about the confidence in ourselves from the beginning,” Kopech said of the team overall after Wednesday’s 6-0 win against the Guardians. “We had a tough stretch early on but starting to click and flow and do that as a staff. (We) put six runs on the board (Wednesday) on offense. It’s starting to happen on all fronts. If we can continue that, it’s going to end up being a good run.

“We know that we can win this division. A couple of years ago we did it and last year we didn’t live up to our potential, to say the least. We know the kind of team we are, and with this stretch we are about to finish off (against division opponents), we can put ourselves in a good position.”

The Sox were 11-8 against the AL Central entering Thursday and 7-2 in the first nine of 13 straight against division foes. They went 37-39 against the AL Central last year after going a combined 69-47 while making the postseason in 2020 and ‘21.

Grifol isn’t paying too much attention to the standings at this point.

“It doesn’t matter how many games we’re back, we have to worry about us being prepared to win,” he said Wednesday. “The standings will take care of themselves. I’ve never been one to scoreboard watch. The human side of it is an element, but that doesn’t happen until way later on in the year.

“It’s about us improving every single day and getting better. My focus now is getting us to play good defense, finding a way to continue to pitch the way we’re pitching and continuing to improve with runners in scoring position, with two strikes, moving runners over and playing team baseball. Just improving every day. That’s what I’m focused on.”


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