WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox weekly for WARR.com.
Also, check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.
So, as it turns out, Jose Abreu is human after all.
The Cuban slugger floated back down to earth this week after he had posted some monster numbers in week one of his inaugural MLB season.
In his 25 plate appearances since the opening week, Abreu has posted just one hit — a single — and has drawn four walks entering Saturday. It certainly doesn’t help either that any time Abreu makes solid contact, that batted ball quickly finds a home in an opponents glove, which is evident from his lowly .077 batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
ALEXI!!!! (c) Hawk Harrelson
But growing pains like this past week’s were to be expected for a young ballplayer beginning his adjustment to big league pitching — the White Sox knew this when they signed him. Helping to ease the offensive drought from Abreu has been the amazing start from Alexei Ramirez, who has hit safely in a franchise record 17 straight games to start the season.
Ramirez boasts an ultra impressive slash line of .379/.423/.621 and has been doing his part to drive in runs, pacing the team with 15 runs batted in. He is also second on the team in runs scored (14) for a squad that ranks third overall in the MLB with 87 runs. In addition to that, Ramiez has been nearly flawless defensively, with just one error while twisting up 12 double play balls.
Though I would have expected to have see Conor Gillaspie provide a little more power in his warm start, the 26 year old lefty has been seeing the ball well and making the most of his at bats. Playing in 13 of the team’s 17 contests, Gillaspie is second on the team with a .314 batting average and has driven in nine runs.
A generously high BABIP of .400 for Gillaspie suggests that high average could come down a little in the next few weeks, but the batting average is nothing to dismiss when you consider it’s coupled with a high strikeout rate (22%). That strike out rate average is about 5% higher than his career marks, so a little more patience at the plate and we could see some consistency solid numbers from the third basemen.
Pitching Consistency An Issue
With the overall offensive output the club has had, one might expect the Sox to have jumped out to an early lead in an American League Central division with many of the teams hovering at or near the .500 mark. The 8-9 South Siders have been really held back due to extremely poor starts from Felipe Paulino and Erik Johnson.
The two starters have combined to allow 35 runs in their seven starts, the most recent disaster being Paulino’s Friday night start in Arlington. These rough outings, aside from putting the White Sox in a huge offensive hold to climb out of, also help drain the arms of the bullpen. Not to mention the fact the Sox have only come out victorious in two of those seven starts from Paulino and Johnson (note: Paulino is heading to the DL, per ESPN Chicago).
It’s still very early, but the AL Central has the feel that the division crown is really anyone’s for the taking. Heading into tonight’s game two of a three-game set in in Texas this weekend, the Sox are in fourth, but just one game back from division leader, Detroit. That being said, the White Sox will really need to have some back end of the rotation support to be in a contending position come time for the trade deadline in late July.
The starting staff as amwhole may not have the arms that Detroit has, but Sale is a No. 1 as strong as any other in the league. If this offense continues to perform with consistency from top to bottom, a not-so-impressive ERA from the starting pitchers may not be as great a concern as it would for some others in the division.
Unfortunately, the ERA concerns don’t start and end with Johnson and Paulino. The White Sox bullpen has an MLB-worst ERA, with a figure of over 6.5 runs per game. With a number that high, it’s almost remarkable that three of their eight wins have been by one run.
A deeper dive into the numbers reveals that opponents are hitting the bullpen well, but not that well. It’s the control issue that is really killing the Sox, as they’ve issued 34 walks this season. That’s a figure that absolutely has to come down, and it starts with these main culprits: Ronny Belisario (12.91 ERA), Scott Downs (10.8 ERA), and closer Matt Lindstrom (3 blown saves).
Cleto a Savior?
The one bullpen bright spot has been Maikel Cleto. Cleto has a 1.35 ERA in seven appearances and has, by far, stranded the most base runners at 88%. He too has had some control issues, walking a healthy number batters in just 6.1 innings, but has managed to keep the ball in the yard. That’s going to be a big factor in determining his success, as Cleto is typically a fly ball pitcher.
He doesn’t quite possess the swing-and-miss type stuff you typically associate with a closer, but I wonder if Ventura would give Cleto a crack at the 9th inning job.
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