White Sox loaded bullpen piling up losses in season's early going

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Vinnie Duber
·4 min read
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Sox loaded 'pen not living up to 'elite' hopes early on originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Liam Hendriks got a $54 million free agent deal this winter, and Aaron Bummer said he wanted the White Sox to go 90-0 with a late lead.

The South Side bullpen was shaping up to be baseball's best. And it's important to note, just nine games into a 162-game marathon, that it still very well could be. But through those nine games, a loaded White Sox relief corps has been tagged more frequently than anyone thought it would be in the lead-up to the season.

Hendriks' third pitch of the top of the ninth inning Sunday afternoon was clobbered by Carlos Santana for a game-tying home run, giving Hendriks his first blown save in a White Sox uniform in his Guaranteed Rate Field debut. The All-Star closer has given up two home runs in his three appearances, and two of those outings have been laborious: 34 pitches last weekend against the Los Angeles Angels and 28 on Sunday against the Kansas City Royals.

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But Hendriks hasn't been alone and wasn't even Sunday. Aaron Bummer gave up a run in the eighth inning, a go-ahead tally that was only negated thanks to Adam Eaton's pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the frame. Garrett Crochet came in for the 10th, and the Royals' automatic runner scored the game-winning run when he spiked a throw home on a squeeze play.

Last week, Tony La Russa left Matt Foster in to get his brains beat in by the Seattle Mariners, calling his managing "stupid" and "lousy" that day. Foster was the one who served up the walk-off homer to Jared Walsh days earlier in Anaheim. Codi Heuer gave up a homer to Walsh in that same game. Evan Marshall was saddled with a blown save and a loss in that same series, giving up a triple and a homer in the eighth inning the night before.

The White Sox have five losses nine games in. And each has gone to a bullpen pitcher.

But if you're looking for panic, don't go asking the White Sox. They don't have any.

"I don’t think you can shake confidence out of the guys we have here," White Sox reliever Michael Kopech said after Sunday's game. "We are going to try to stay humble and stay grounded as much as we can, but we have a massive amount of talent so there’s a massive amount of confidence in this clubhouse."

"I think it is a strength of our club," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "You can take an incident here or there where they haven't been perfect, but we had a couple chances (Sunday) with a runner on third and we didn't get a run. The team gets beat. The bullpen is outstanding, a real strength."

La Russa is right, there's been a lot going on with these White Sox besides late-inning lapses by the bullpen. The defense has committed nine errors in nine games, with two more Sunday. Timely hitting has been hit or miss, and Sunday it was a miss, the White Sox 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position, leaving 12 men on base. Eloy Jiménez is hurt. Tim Anderson is hurt. Adam Engel is hurt.

Meanwhile, there have been some tremendous bright spots radiating from the relief corps, none brighter than Kopech, who has faced 22 batters this season and retired all but three of them. He's become a multi-inning super weapon for La Russa, and he added 2.1 more perfect innings Sunday in relief of Dylan Cease, giving the White Sox what they needed after Cease couldn't make it out of the fifth.

But remember what Marshall said during spring training:

"I think anything short of elite would be a disappointment. We want to lead the league in a bunch of categories."

The White Sox closed out their third series of the season with a 4.99 bullpen ERA. The only thing they led the league in was losses.

So is it time to panic? Absolutely not. It's been nine games.

But is the White Sox bullpen elite? No, not yet. So you can understand why some are finding that disappointing.

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