Whatever magic Michael Kopech had last Friday night in Kansas City, he managed to bring some of it with him to Cleveland this afternoon, where he held the Guardians (21-28) scoreless over six pristine innings in Chicago’s (21-30) series-clinching win. The Sox offense erupted for five runs in the fourth inning, which was more than enough to give them the edge against the Guardians, who they now trail by just a single game in the AL Central standings.
The lineup started slowly against Cal Quantrill, who needed just 17 pitches to get through the first two innings without much of a scratch. Before long, however, Steve Stone was beginning to sound like his former partner in extolling the dangers and virtues of the leadoff walk, as Clint Frazier opened the gates with such a walk and following it up with a stolen base, and, two batters later, a run scored on a Tim Anderson single.
An inning later, Yoán Moncada reached base the same way, and the floodgates opened. A Gavin Sheets walk sandwiched between singles from Andrew Vaughn and Frazier and a Jake Burger sacrifice fly paved the way for Romy González to make his second critical bases-loaded plate appearance in a week’s time. And for the second time in a week, Romy came through:
A wild pitch and second sacrifice fly later, the score was 6-0, where it would be cemented for the rest of the game.
Sensing that their services were no longer needed, Sox hitters proceeded to make 15 straight outs to end their half of the game. But even if Romy had struck out instead of doubled, and so had every batter thereafter, it still wouldn’t have mattered, because for the second straight outing, Michael Kopech was simply untouchable. It took him just 92 pitches to get through seven innings, going perfect through the first four and once again facing the minimum through the first five. His fastball was as electric as it was in Kansas City, drawing 12 swinging strikes and living up in the zone where hitters simply couldn’t touch it, and was able to throw his slider competitively enough to get strikes and keep hitters off the fastball.
He allowed only two hits, both singles: Yet another broken-bat effort, this time belonging to Josh Naylor, and a somewhat-sharply hit Andrés Giménez grounder that found its way through the hole on the right side. When Steven Kwan walked to follow it up, putting a runner in scoring position for the first time in almost weeks, it looked as if Kopech was running out of gas. But he managed to finish strong, needing just 10 pitches to retire four more hitters and complete seven frames in consecutive outings for the first time in his career.
Michael Kopech's 7th and 8th Ks— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 24, 2023
Thru 4 pic.twitter.com/Id4IqIrFGr
Kopech’s nine strikeouts make for a total of 19 (to just the single walk) over 15 innings in the span of five days, sparing just three hits, two of which were erased by double plays. Flashes of brilliance are nothing new from Kopech, but it feels as if he may be on the cusp of turning a legitimate corner after a frustrating 12 months.
He seems to have finally found consistency in smoothly syncing his upper- and lower-half mechanics, leading to the combination of fastball velocity (he once again reached 99 mph several times today) and command that he’s only rarely displayed since his transition to starting. Experience, perhaps, has also led him to realize that when he has that special fastball, he can get away with throwing it 70% of the time as long as he can fill up the zone enough to stay in advantageous counts. He also seems to have nearly completely ditched the curveball, perhaps deciding that leaning on the fastball and using the slider and changeup as change-of-pace pitches is a better option than attempting to throw a good slider and curveball and instead messing up them both.
Reynaldo López and Jimmy Lambert handled the final two innings without any noise from the opposition, bringing the Sox to 7-3 over their last 10, the first time they’ve played .700 baseball over a stretch that long all year. Good thing they get to play the AL Central 30% more than they do the rest of the league, right? Right?
Joke’s on me, because the team’s next move is a short jaunt over to Detroit, where they’ll begin a three-game set with the Tigers at 5:40 p.m. CT. Lucas Giolio looks to make it nine consecutive starts of at least six innings pitched, and the seventh of those with no more than two runs allowed. Detroit, who has a night game later this evening, will counter with Alex Faedo, a former first round pick looking to establish himself in the big leagues with his fourth start of 2023. See you there!