White Sox pitching shines vs. Astros, showing playoff potential

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Sox show playoff potential as pitching shines vs. Astros originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago White Sox have a big problem on their hands.

That's a joke, of course. More on that knee-slapper in a second.

Actually, their problems look far more minimal than they did just two days ago, when the Houston Astros kickstarted a three-game set on the South Side with another blowout that brought to mind the four-game sweep of the White Sox last month in Texas.

RELATED: Why Lance Lynn passed on free agency to stay on South Side

In the two days since, it was the White Sox putting on the clinic and looking like the superior of the two first-place clubs — even as they move through an injury hurricane that's wiped out half their starting lineup.

The White Sox, after taking the series with a 4-0 win Sunday afternoon, own the American League's best winning percentage and baseball's largest division lead.

So about that problem:

Who the heck is going to start Game 1 of the ALDS?

"It would be really tough. Everybody is worthy," White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz told NBC Sports Chicago last month. "The starting staff has been very good. They've shown they're some of the best in baseball.

"I just hope that at the end of the season, we are in that situation and we do have a tough choice to make because that means they're healthy and they've been consistent for a long time."

It might be a tad presumptive at this point in mid July to be setting up a playoff rotation, but only a tad. The AL Central has provided little resistance to the White Sox ascent this season, and while the question after Friday's loss was whether the White Sox have what it takes to beat other contenders, the two wins that followed provided some positive answers to that question.

Can they beat other contenders? Well, they just did.

Unsurprisingly, those answers came courtesy of the White Sox starting pitching this weekend, and indeed the starting rotation has been what's powered the team to its standing atop the division and among baseball's championship contenders.

Lucas Giolito was dominant in a complete-game effort Saturday night that stood as perhaps his finest outing of the year. Carlos Rodón, who's had so many good ones during his All-Star season that it's rather difficult to pick out his best, followed with another gem Sunday, holding the Astros to just a single base hit in his seven shutout innings.

Dylan Cease wasn't too shabby himself Friday. Lance Lynn, fresh off his contract extension that will keep him at home on the South Side, gets the ball Monday in a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. Dallas Keuchel is the only one of the five with both a World Series ring and a Cy Young Award.

"Right now we've got five guys that are going out there and doing it every time," White Sox reliever Michael Kopech said after Sunday's game. "I think we've got one of the best five-man rotations in baseball right now, if not the best. I know that's bold, but I think we've shown that.

"I don't think any time that someone steps on the mound for us that it seems like, 'All right, we're going to have to battle today.' I think we have the potential to dominate everybody we play."

General manager Rick Hahn would call trying to pick a Game 1 starter a good problem to have, surely better than the alternative, which the White Sox lived through last fall, when their lack of a reliable third starting-pitching option ended their first postseason trip in a dozen years after just three games.

And so while you could make a case for a few different guys — Rodón's been the most dominant, Lynn's got the veteran knowhow to go along with his own brand of dominance, and Giolito was exceptionally dominant in his postseason debut last year — the bottom line is that the White Sox will go as far in the playoffs as their starting pitching can take them.

The good news is their starting pitching is capable of taking them a very long way, especially if they continue to make a habit of turning in one dominant effort after another, like they did this weekend.

"I think pitching is contagious," Rodón said. "You just feed off each other."

Lynn's arrival was more of a sure thing, and he's delivered exactly what was needed and more. He was penciled in as a top-of-the-rotation guy and has given Hahn & Co. no reason to turn to an eraser. The December trade that brought Lynn in from Texas was supposed to deepen the rotation with another ace type, and that's precisely what it did.

Rodón, of course, has been the surprise, and what a surprise, at that. The roll of the dice to bring him back and give him a chance at the fifth-starter spot in the spring has turned into an even deeper starting staff for a team with World Series aspirations.

Even Cease, who everyone will tell you is still developing at the big league level, has been far more reliable than his 2020 season suggested he might have been, and he, too, can be confidently turned to once the calendar turns to October.

It was one thing to see all that dominance against the likes of the Twins and the Detroit Tigers and the Baltimore Orioles. But avenging that four-game sweep with a series win and strong pitching performances against the Astros and their best-in-baseball offense this weekend was another.

The White Sox showed that they can go toe to toe with the big boys. Their pitching allows it.

"Lucas really set the tone for us (Saturday) night," Kopech said. "To get a win against those guys is obviously huge, and to go a complete game is even more impressive. And so I think we all kind of took that energy into today. I know Carlos did, does what he does every outing, went out there and dominated.

"Those guys are helping us out a lot. It's cool to just pitch behind them and know every day you have a chance to win with who we have starting the game. That's a nice feeling, for sure."

October's still a bit away, and things can obviously change. Health is always of the utmost importance, as the White Sox know all too well. And who knows what the team might be mulling in regards to Kopech's ever-evolving role.

But championships are won with pitching, and today, the White Sox boast the AL's finest crop of starting pitchers.

So can the White Sox beat other contenders? Yeah, they can. And they might be able to beat a lot of them thanks to these arms.

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