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Counting The Minutes

For some inexplicable reason, that song from Rent keeps repeating itself inside my head. You know, the one about 525,600 minutes in a year. "Seasons of Love" for the uninformed.

I do like the song and wish I could just leave it at that until the lyrics and tune run their course and abandon my consciousness, going back to wherever they came from. However, the fortunes of our favorite South Side team have interfered.

With 28 days left in this 2021 regular season, even with a 9½-game bulge in the American League's Central Division, the White Sox have more question marks than certainties. I suspect I'm not alone wishing that this lovely September will pass by quickly so that we can find out the answers.

All of which is unfortunate since the hot, humid summer temperatures are yielding to cooler days and nights; the leaves have begun to show splashes of their autumn splendor; kids are back in school albeit with layers of safety protocols; and any criticism the Sox might endure already has been lessened by the negative attention aimed at the Bears, who figure to be stomped by the Rams on Sunday. In the recent past - excluding last season - the Sox were a mere footnote in September.

However, success and a stable of young, talented athletes have changed the scene at 35th and Shields.

While the Sox have been plagued by injuries this season, until the last couple of weeks, their strong starting rotation has been healthy and, for the most part, effective. Not any longer.

Lucas Giolito went down last Tuesday with a hamstring strain thanks to fielding a swinging bunt in the fourth inning of an eventual 4-2 victory over the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates. He joined Lance Lynn on the injured list, and Carlos Rodón made it a threesome over the weekend. His left shoulder continues to say, "I'm tired." At least that's the team's explanation for his fragility.

Of course, that's 60 percent of a starting corps that has recorded a 3.58 ERA this season, good for fifth in all of baseball.

Then there's Dallas Keuchel who, by his own admission, has been simply awful the past couple months. After lasting just one batter into the fourth inning last Friday in Kansas City, Keuchel's ERA soared to 5.22. Take his numbers of out the starting mix, and the others have a sparkling 3.20 mark.

Despite being the loser on Sunday, Dylan Cease now becomes the ace since availability has bubbled to the surface. He threw a first-inning fastball to Salvy Perez off the outside corner on Sunday that wound up in the fountains in right centerfield at Kauffman Field. It was a three-run shot, which was all the Royals needed in their 6-0 win, giving Kansas City 10 wins in the 19-game season series against the White Sox. Overall, Cease pitched admirably in his five innings of work.

Meanwhile, manager Tony La Russa continued his scheme of resting his regulars so that the bottom five of his Sunday batting order - Leury García, Brian Goodwin, Gavin Sheets, Danny Mendick,and Seby Zavala - have a composite slashline of .234/.312/.641 with 25 home runs and 128 RBIs.

Each of those guys has made important contributions during the season, but taken altogether, this is not the kind of lineup typical of a ballclub with championship aspirations. Red-hot Yasmani Grandal sat on the bench next to Tim Anderson, who is on the IR. "He's not hurt, only sore," has become the party line for TA's absence. Sore or hurt doesn't matter. Anderson needs to be on the field if this team hopes to make a deep run next month.

Strange as it may sound, Reynaldo Lopez could wind up salvaging the starting pitching, or at least making up for Keuchel's demise.

Consider this: Lopez started eight games a season ago, posting a 6.49 ERA on the heels of his 2019 campaign when he was 10-15 with a 5.38 mark. Vying for the fifth starting spot at spring training, Reynaldo pitched nine innings, allowing 11 earned runs as opponents hit .348 against him. He wasn't much better after being assigned to Triple-A Charlotte where he toiled for 39 innings, allowing 53 hits and a WHIP of 1.897. His ERA was 7.62.

In a shocker, that performance "earned" Lopez a trip to The Grate in mid-July. Now, after 15 appearances, five as a starter, Lopez has also pitched the same number of innings as he did at Charlotte, 39. However, he's given up just 20 hits while posting a 2.08 ERA. His WHIP is an eye-opening 0.718.

Like everyone else, the umpires have been checking Reynaldo's attire and body for sticky stuff. They've discovered nothing suspicious. I assume Lopez is eligible for random drug tests like all players. Perhaps he's confused Triple-A with the major leagues. Anyone who could have predicted Lopez's transformation might also take a stab at the stock market.

If all the aches and pains were to subside in the next four weeks without any new maladies surfacing, La Russa could lead his charges into the post-season with a certain degree of optimism. He won't be resting his best players, and Lynn, Giolito, Cease and Rodón will get the starting nods.

At the same time, a September surge could garner home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the Sox, who trail the Astros by a half-game for the second seed. The local crew has the league's best record at home at 46-24 and is 33-34 on the road.

The team's mediocre record against opponents with .500 or better ledgers has been pointed out rather frequently since the Sox are 29-33 against the good clubs and a whopping 50-25 versus the also-rans.

This week should offer a glimpse of where the Sox stand since they visit Oakland, a team above .500 and a post-season contender, for three games starting Tuesday. Thus, they'll be tested in their two most challenging categories against 1) a winning team, and 2) on the road.

Adding to the impending obstacle is the announced starters of Keuchel and Lopez on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, and our old friend TBD on Tuesday, which probably will morph into minor leaguer Jimmy Lambert.

Then it's back home to The Grate to face Boston this weekend. The Red Sox have a three-game lead over surprising Seattle for a wild-card spot, so the visitors won't require any additional motivation.

We can be excused if we're anxious and eager to see how all this shakes out over the season's final 25 games in 28 days. Or 40,320 minutes if you're counting.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Oct 11, 2021