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MLB: Chicago White Sox at Tampa Bay Rays

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Rays 8, White Sox 7: No Comment

The South Side Sox recap crew channels their inner Terrell Owens for this one

Brandon Lowe wins the game.
| Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time in the 2023 season, the White Sox have won a game in which they’ve trailed by more than two runs.

For a moment, I really thought that was how this recap was about to start. Instead, Christian Bethancourt led off the ninth inning with a solo home run, and one Yandy Díaz and Brandon Lowe home run later, Reynaldo López was stuck with his second loss and first ninth-inning blown save of the season. Though the opening line of this recap was prepared before this turn of events, one cannot say it was entirely unforeseen:

A snapshot of this author’s impeccable jinxing capabilities

In spite of today’s title, there are, unfortunately and in fact, plenty of comments.

Michael Kopech was enigmatic at best today, putting the Sox in a 4-0 first-inning hole thanks to a pair of walks that were instantly followed by a Josh Lowe (pronounced “low,” in distinction with his homographic teammate, whose last name rhymes with “wow”) double and Harold Ramírez home run.

That being said, the mysterious mechanical issues that seem to have plagued Kopech dating back to last season looked like a thing of the past today, as the soon-to-be 27-year-old displayed some of the most electric stuff we’ve seen from him since his full-time move to the rotation in 2022. He averaged 96.9 mph on his four-seamer today, the second-highest single-game average of his starting career, trailing only the 97.2 mph mark he put up in last May’s memorable Sunday Night Baseball start against the Yankees. He also brushed against 100 mph on several occasions, topping out at 99.9 — the second fastest pitch he’s ever thrown as an MLB starter — and reaching 99 several other times.

Unfortunately, his breaking balls remain a work in progress. Six of his nine punchouts came on four-seamers, and two of the remaining three came in the fifth inning, when he seemed to have somewhat rediscovered his command of the pitch. Both Lowe and Ramírez’s extra-base RBIs came against sliders that were far too hittable. You likely couldn’t draw up a juicier pitch than the one Ramírez took out:

However surprising, the White Sox managed to immediately bounce back with a three-spot in their half of the second inning thanks to a bevy of — you guessed it — singles, including RBIs for Oscar Colás, Elvis Andrus, and Benintendi, who entered the game with a combined 13 runs driven in more than 200 plate appearances.

Despite the runs, it’s still in many ways perfect encapsulation of the power issues that have plagues their offense since Tony La Russa’s hiring. Good teams like the Rays do what Harold Ramírez did when he received a fat, middle-middle slider. Teams like the White Sox do what the vertically-disadvantaged Benintendi could, merely slapping a single the other way when he received a hanging slider that a quicker, perhaps bulkier lefty ought to have crushed:

Fortunately (at the time), that wasn’t all, as the Sox tacked on three more runs — but no thanks to their bats, as the sequence that produced those runs reads “walk, walk, walk, wild pitch, walk.” Eloy Jiménez tacked on one more in the fourth inning by finally breaking the ice with his first longball of the season.

Conversely, Luis Robert Jr.’s recent struggles continued with a brutal 0-for-6 day at the plate, making him just 4-for-33 (.121) since homering in Minnesota 10 days ago. His inability to draw walks remains a serious issue: Pitchers are throwing it in the zone against him 51.5% of the time, a more than 6% increase over 2022. At the same time, Robert is swinging at just 70.6% of those pitches, more than 13% lower than last season. His contact ability in the zone and top-tier exit velocities are still intact, however, making his decreased swing frequency somewhat baffling.

The fact that he still chases pitches out of the zone at a rate 10% higher than league average while making contact with them at a rate well-below league average indicates that the improvements in pitch recognition needed for him to reach his MVP-caliber ceiling have simply not materialized. How much of this is on him versus a developmental failure of the White Sox may be fairly questioned, though the fact that Jiménez and Colás continue to run into the same issues while Yoán Moncada’s plate discipline has backslid may be telling.

Kopech managed to last through five innings and 104 pitches, allowing one additional run in the fourth inning on another trio of base hits from Ramírez. Bethancourt, and Díaz. Following, the Sox received a rare display of middle relief competence from Aaron Bummer, Jake Diekman, and Jimmy Lambert, who allowed just a single baserunner in their three innings of work. Reynaldo López was brought on to pitch the ninth, and, well, you know what happened.

No comment.

The White Sox return to Tropicana Field tomorrow at 3:05 p.m. CT, when Dylan Cease will search for his third win of the season after a pair of shaky (for his recent standards) outings.

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