The White Sox return home today after a road trip that, under most circumstances, would be good enough. They went 5-6 on a journey that took them from Toronto to Houston via a doubleheader in Baltimore, concluding with a three-game set against the Rangers. That's not awful. Plus, they'd already logged a lot of consecutive games before hitting the road, meaning they'd played 18 games in 17 days at one point on the swing.
But a 5-6 road trip is a problem when it comes after a 2-5 homestand. The Sox need to string together wins at some point to offset those miserable series against the Twins and Indians, but they went the entire trip without two winning days (they did have back-to-back wins, but the second was Game 1 of the doubleheader, and the Sox lost Game 2).
Basically, it was a slightly below-.500 team playing slightly below-.500 baseball, and that's nothing new for the White Sox this year. However, there were a handful of more novel developments despite the overarching mediocrity.
No. 1: Chris Sale is back.
No. 2: Carlos Rodon made the first adjustment to the adjustment.
While Rodon survived his first three starts -- 16 innings, one win, two no-decisions, a 4.50 ERA -- he didn't make it easy on himself, as he issued 15 walks. Craig Edwards at FanGraphs highlighted the first chapter of the book on Rodon, in which hitters forced him to throw strikes on a regular basis, even if they had to risk falling behind.
After skipping a start to work on some stuff on the side, Rodon was equipped for the challenge. He didn't walk a single Astro over 6⅓ innings on May 29, even while leaky defense forced him to face extra batters. He wasn't quite as precise against the Rangers on Thursday (he walked three over six innings), but he offset that problem with a far more devastating arsenal. It's a lot easier to put up with an elevated walk rate when punching out 10 per six.
And even with the three walks, he still threw strikes for 61 percent of his pitches. In his two starts before the layoff, he was only around 54 percent. This is good stuff.
No. 3: They only wasted two good pitching performances!
The White Sox are 20-4 when scoring at least four runs this season, and they went 4-1 in such games on the trip (they scored nine and lost against the Blue Jays, thanks to Josh Donaldson).
The problem is that they keep scoring three runs or fewer, including more than half of the road trip, including a pair of shutouts (including a Maddux by Drew Hutchison, who went back to his usual ways against the Twins next time out). The lack of power continues to be the main culprit. They did manage to hit eight homers over 11 games, which constitutes a surge this season, but they held steady at a paltry 2.2 extra-base hits per game.
Outside of Jose Abreu's finger staying its normal size, there aren't many non-regression reasons to believe an upswing is just around the corner. So as long as the offense keeps sputtering, the only hope is that run distribution luck falls on their side, which will at least provide some sense of equality and justice and whatnot, although that's not the material for winning streaks.
Out of the 11 games, they only spoiled two good starts. Jose Quintana was outdueled by Dallas Keuchel, which happens. Rodon outpitched Yovani Gallardo with nothing to show for it, which is more problematic. But the Sox have done their pitchers worse for longer stretches, so If nothing else, their losses were easier to reconcile on the average.
(That's close to nothing else.)
No. 4: Daniel Webb is kinda trustworthy?
Maybe not as trustworthy as 2⅔ high-leverage innings on Thursday would seem, because Zach Putnam was unavailable with an irritated thumb. After Webb, Robin Ventura had David Robertson, Hector Noesi and Dan Jennings at his disposal. If you assume a manager won't want to use his closer in a tie game on the road, then there is no favorite among the remaining three.
Credit Webb for making the most of the opportunity. There really wasn't a clear, understandable reason why he received a promotion from Charlotte in place of Scott Carroll -- his standard stats and peripherals with the Knights were all underwhelming at best -- and now there isn't a clear, understandable reason why he's throwing more quality strikes with both pitches. His line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K -- and that walk is an intentional one.
Of course, he needed an incredible double play by Carlos Sanchez to keep that ERA clean on Thursday, but he found that trouble by allowing hits. That's an improvement over making his own trouble with walks. Who knows how long this kind of run prevention will last, but the Sox should be welcoming good flukes however they can take them, and Webb is positioning himself to survive a bullpen makeover regardless.
No. 5: Dan Jennings isn't.
Through one month, Jennings looked better than his stats. He had a 5.94 ERA through 15 games, but 12 of those outings were scoreless. He just got beat up in the other three. Likewise, while he had 11 walks over 16 innings, five of them were intentional. You could see a useful reliever through the noise, especially since he kept the ball in the park.
But Thursday night marked the third consecutive outing in which he was scored upon, and it's been five of the last seven. Moreover, he's being careful against righties while attacking lefties, which would be a much better idea if he didn't have a history of slight reverse splits. As it stands, it basically means he's creating RBI opportunities for the opponents:
vs. RHB: .233/.404/.395
- vs. LHB: .326/.354/.391
Now we're seeing why the Marlins relegated him to mostly low-to-mid-leverage work. That makes him a poor fit for a team whose combination of good starting and a struggling offense makes low-to-mid-leverage work rather scarce.