It felt like one of those games from the very outset, as the Tampa Bay Rays (5-5) took a 4-0 lead before two outs were recorded and never looked back, hanging on for a 9-3, series-salvaging victory over the White Sox (6-3) that was a bit tighter than the final score.
Vince Velásquez (1-1) deflated the Sunday afternoon crowd with a first-inning implosion that included a pair of bases-loaded walks, and a bobbled tapper back to the mound that turned a potential double play into a run and a baserunner.
To his credit, Velásquez settled down to keep the team in the game, working into the fifth inning without another run to preserve a hard-worked bullpen in the midst of a stretch of 38 games in 41 days. Velásquez generated plenty of swings-and-misses despite low-90s velocity, finishing with five strikeouts over 4 2⁄3 innings and one of those ironies in which a pitcher avoids being charged with an earned run because of his own error. While he has battled admirably in both of his starts on the homestand, Velásquez’s final line of seven hits, six walks, and 14 (!) hard-hit batted balls (at least 95 mph) gives him an ever-thinner margin for error if he’s to remain in the rotation much longer going forward.
Today’s White Sox lineup was reminiscent of Tampa Bay’s effort yesterday, failing to capitalize on multiple opportunities to take the game back and ultimately scattering just three hits among José Abreu, Gavin Sheets, and Adam Engel.
The team went without a hit until Abreu’s fourth inning knock, but its first opportunity to score came in the bottom of the third. After Adam Engel reached on a six-pitch walk and stolen second base (his first of two steals on the day), he seemed to score on a soft ground ball to the right side that Tim Anderson appeared to beat out at first base. However, the call was overturned after a brief replay review:
The next of several chances came in the subsequent inning, when back-to-back walks to Yasmani Grandal and Eloy Jiménez following Abreu’s single loaded the bases, with Abreu scoring when Gavin Sheets was hit by a Chris Mazza breaking ball. The game’s pivot point may have been Josh Harrison’s plate appearance following it up, fouling off four pitches and working the count full before striking out on a slider that only briefly saw the strike zone, if at all. The inning ended one pitch later, on a 6-4 Jake Burger ground out.
History repeated itself in the fifth inning. Engel stole second base after reaching to lead off the inning — this time on a single yanked to left field — and then moving to third on a wild pitch that contributed to an Anderson walk. After TA subsequently stole second himself and Luis Robert flew out to shallow right field, Abreu’s fourth walk of the season loaded the bases. Here history also repeated itself in the form of a Grandal pop-out on the infield, the second time he’s done so with the bases loaded since Opening Day and one of several times with runners in scoring position.
Tampa Bay continued to offer gifts to the slumping Sox offense, allowing Engel to score on a wild pitch with Jiménez looming at the plate. The Sox, however, engaged in some re-gifting, ended the inning before Eloy had a chance to tack on more, when Anderson was thrown out trying to score on another ball to squirt past catcher Francisco Mejia:
It felt miraculous that the game remained within reach at 4-2 moving into the late innings, but they would fail to threaten any further action before a seventh inning meltdown from Anderson Severino put the game firmly out of reach.
Sheets secured his place in the Six Pack’s postgame poll (the good one) with a ninth-inning solo shot against rookie Tommy Romero, his first of the year:
All in all, there is little shame in a 4-2 homestand against two teams that broke 90 wins a year ago and are widely expected to compete for playoff berths this season. Several games were won in spite of Chicago’s flaws and deficits; today, it couldn’t quite overcome the injuries and lack of investment needed to compete for a sweep against formidable opposition. All other context aside, a game whose pitching line goes Velásquez-Banks-Foster-Severino-Crick is not one in which there’s a reasonable expectation of winning.
For better or worse, those kinds of getaway day games can be necessary over the course of 162. Tomorrow, the team embarks on their first multi-series road intradivisional road trip, heading to Cleveland for a quartet with the Guardians before circling up to Minneapolis for three with the Twins. Dallas Keuchel and Jimmy Lambert are scheduled to start the first of those, opposite Shane Bieber and Triston McKenzie, and with Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech slated for just one start apiece before the next off day, it will likely be another week of heavy bullpen usage. After that, there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Joe Kelly, Johnny Cueto, and any other arms that may begin to rise above the fray in Charlotte.
Bieber has a career 2.55 ERA in 12 starts against the White Sox. Tomorrow’s first pitch is scheduled for 5:10 p.m. CST. It’s a double-Darre/in day, with Darren Black on the recap and Darrin Brown working the Six Pack.
We’ll see you there.