Come postseason play, all that remains as a pitching staff’s foundation are its fundamentals. Earned run averages, fielding independent pitching ratings, hard-hit rates, hot streaks, grooves lost, wins, losses — all of it basically goes out the window.
Tendencies and track records take the strategic lead, execution becomes the main objective, and the team that makes the least mistakes usually advances. Baseball, baby.
The White Sox, primed for their second consecutive postseason appearance after clinching their first American League Central title since 2008, have the parts in stock to make waves this autumn.
Missteps and underperformance can turn magical campaigns into sour memories in short order. For those who ply their trade on the bump, no mistakes hurt worse than issuing free bases and giving up long balls.
World Series aspirations have been getting extinguished since May, as is the way this world turns. More than occasionally, a few walks and a dinger during an inning that got away are the culprit behind losses that could have been won.
Too many of those add up, and you’re golfing come Columbus Day.
Strikeouts are great, but goose eggs are better. Velocity is cool, but the command of one’s pitches is what separates All-Stars from minor leaguers.
For Tony La Russa’s White Sox, they have residents on all sides of that spectrum, and come October, there will be wild cards dealt. Chicago will need to walk those lines carefully.
Dylan Cease, who’s taken enormous steps in 2021, ranks second in the majors (qualified starters) with 12.30 strikeouts per nine innings. Great stuff. But on the flip side of that coin, his 3.67 walks per nine rank second among the same group, and his 1.11 home runs allowed per nine are 17th-most.
Lucas Giolito is in a similar boat. He racked up 10.26 strikeouts and 2.64 walks per nine (15th and 14th in MLB, respectively), but has allowed the eighth-most home runs per nine innings among MLB starters (1.40). These are the monsters under the bed that keep you up at night.
The control that Carlos Rodón (12.76 K/9, 2.40 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9) and Lance Lynn (10.18 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 1.40 HR/9) have exhibited this year, while not what you’d call flashy, is exactly what carries a team through the postseason. There’s a lot to be said for simply going to work and doing your job without the need for any extra bells or whistles.
Again, the pizzazz is cool. But when wins are all that matter, it’s the little things that count more.
As for the Sox bullpen, they’ve actually quite the stable of reinforcements built up. Liam Hendriks, of course, is elite in nearly every measure (14.03 K/9, 0.93 BB/9) but is known to give up more-than-sporadic home runs (1.46 HR/9).
Craig Kimbrel, for all his ups and downs, is what he is: A seasoned veteran with the ability to strike out whoever he wants when he’s right. However, his 4.09 walks and 2.05 home runs allowed per nine innings with the White Sox since coming over from the Cubs is wholly concerning. Usage will determine Kimbrel’s playoff legacy on the South Side.
Ryan Tepera, expected back from the injured list this week, could end up being La Russa’s secret weapon this fall. Since coming over from the Cubs, the former MVP vote-getter (seriously) has racked up 12.38 strikeouts, 2.81 walks, and given up 0.56 home runs per nine innings. That, my friends, is what we’re talking about. Keep ‘em guessing while sacrificing nothing in the command department. Look for a huge postseason from Tepera.
Guys like Michael Kopech (12.95 K/9, 3.47 BB/9, 1.28 HR/9), Aaron Bummer (12.66, 4.89, 0.51), Garrett Crochet (10.73, 4.33, 0.35) have the ability to make their respective marks, as well. An opportunity is all they need.
And yes, high-pressure situations may induce a crumbling effect from some of these guys. But hey, there’s only one way to find out what’s what, right? Onward and upward.