Wednesday’s 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays will be remembered — if it’s remembered for anything — for the unusual play in the top of the 5th inning that will ultimately go down as nothing more than an RBI single by Yoan Moncada. But five impressive innings from Carson Fulmer, two more home runs, and four scoreless innings from the bullpen made for a solid ending to a mostly successful season-opening road trip.
1. Fulmer was about as effective as hoped following a precarious spring. He sat 94 with his fastball and consistently threw both his changeup and cutter for strikes. The cutter, in particular, was working from the start. In the first inning, he struck out Justin Smoak on three pitches following his only walk of the game, and ended a first-and-third threat by getting Randall Grichuk chasing on a 2-2 cutter.
In all, he threw 48 of his 73 pitches for strikes, including 12 of 14 changeups and 14 of 16 cutters. Nine of those 26 strikes were of the swinging variety, according to Brooks Baseball, and three of his five strikeouts came swinging.
There was a reason Fulmer only threw 73 pitches, of course, as Rick Renteria had a quick hook following back-to-back hits — a Josh Donaldson single and Smoak double — to lead off the sixth. But, in general, the start was exactly what we saw out of Fulmer at the end of last season, only against real professional hitters instead of the Quad-A rosters of teams 30 games below .500. The stuff has always been there for Fulmer, but his ability to maintain his mechanics and consistently throw strikes both with his fastball and secondary stuff are going to dictate whether or not he’s a starter long-term. It’s one start, but so far, so good.
2. After the Opening Day dinger-fest, I wrote that the White Sox probably aren’t going to lead the majors in home runs. Well … five games in, the White Sox lead the majors with 14 home runs, including Wednesday’s solo shots by Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu, the latter of which proved to be the game winner.
Of course, the aforementioned statement is still true, but there’s no denying the White Sox have been more powerful than one could possible imagine thus far. And it’s not just that the balls are leaving the yard, it’s how they’re leaving. Avisail Garcia’s 481-foot homer Tuesday was the longest by a White Sox hitter in the Statcast era. Yolmer Sanchez — YOLMER SANCHEZ — hit one 442 feet!
Abreu’s power is never going to be a surprise, and when Davidson makes contact and it doesn’t leave the yard, that’s surprising, but even in the current run-scoring environment, the White Sox weren’t particularly dinger-heavy a year ago. The likes of Anderson, Sanchez, and Welington Castillo getting into the act is a welcome sight, for however long it continues.
3. The White Sox bullpen got beat around in Tuesday’s 14-5 loss, but bounced back for four scoreless innings in Wednesday’s win. Sure, Aaron Bummer allowed two inherited runners charged to Fulmer to score, but after he got two outs, the game ended with 3 1/3 hitless frames by Danny Farquhar, Nate Jones, and Joakim Soria.
There’s a lot of volatility in the White Sox bullpen. Bummer and Greg Infante are erratic, and the likes of Farquhar, Soria, and Luis Avilan .. well, there’s a reason the veteran arms were available for very little. Still, after last year’s reliever clearing sale, the fact that the White Sox have any semblance of competence in the middle innings without breaking the bank is pretty impressive.
A team, whether it’s rebuilding or not, could do a lot worse than the Jones-Soria duo in the eighth and ninth innings, and while it’s yet to be determined how the rest will shake out, there’s a lot of upside in the eclectic mix of veterans and guys trying to prove themselves as major league relievers.
4. Oh yeah, back to the play. While it was refreshing to see replay work in what appeared to be correct fashion, and it obviously played out in the White Sox factor, the overturn also overshadowed what was a horrendous play on the basepaths by Castillo. With the bases loaded and one out, the leaping, falling-to-the-ground, initially-called-a catch by Curtis Granderson somehow didn’t turn into a run at first as Castillo didn’t tag up and attempt to score.
It was what amounted to a brain fart that didn’t have an affect on the game’s outcome, but baserunning woes have plagued the White Sox for some time now. Last year, they made 58 outs on the basepaths (doesn’t include pickoffs or caught stealing), which, while not among the worst in the league, was still worse than league average. This year that number is already at four through five games, and doesn’t include blips like Castillo’s.
The flip side of this, of course, is that aggressiveness can beget more runs if executed wisely. Last year, the White Sox were almost exactly average according to BP’s baserunning runs stat, ranking 14th in baseball at -0.1. Stats this year are, of course, far from stabilizing, but it’s maybe worth noting that they’ve taken the extra base on a league-high 67 percent of opportunities through this minuscule sample size after ranking slightly below average in the category a year ago.
There are a lot of noise in these stats, so take them with a grain of salt, but seeing how the White Sox balance aggressiveness with smart baserunning will be something worth watching throughout the season.
5. The White Sox home opener is today, weather pending, with James Shields making his second start of the season against Detroit and Jordan Zimmermann. There will be festivities — including A.J. Pierzynski throwing out the ceremonial first pitch — weather pending.
The Tigers have looked as bad as every expected them to be through five games, going 1-4 against the Pirates and Royals. The White Sox get to play them 19 times this season, so if they have any interest in staying competitive later into the season than anticipated, beating up on this team would be a good way to do so.
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