Ovah The Hump

Let's all take a deep breath and let it out gently. There. That's better. The 15-game journey, the saga that would be a reasonable yardstick from which to measure the progress of these White Sox, closed out Sunday at a soggy Grate much like it began more than two weeks ago.

Of course, we're talking about 15 games against five teams, including three division leaders, currently boasting a .593 winning percentage. Starting with a stirring 5-4 comeback victory against the mighty Yankees and ending Sunday with a tough 4-3 win over the Twins, Rick Renteria's outfit gave a credible account of itself by winning seven of the 15 contests.

The season now is right at its halfway point, and the Sox, standing at 39-42, are a far different ballclub than a year ago when they were 28-53 on their way to 100 losses. Sox faithful, those days are ovah!

Alright, euphoria is too strong a description, but optimism clearly is in order if it already wasn't present. Perhaps the most promising aspect of this most recent stretch is that the Sox have accomplished respectability basically with one effective starting pitcher, the All-Star Lucas Giolito.

For the month of June, Giolito, whose 11 wins are tops in the major leagues, went 4-1 with an ERA of 2.50. He pitched five innings of one-hit ball Sunday before a three-hour rain delay dictated that his work was finished with the Sox enjoying a 2-0 lead. The boys stretched it to 4-0 before the bullpen held on just long enough for a 4-3 triumph.

Meanwhile, we have Reynaldo Lopez and Ivan Nova, two troopers who strive to keep games close for five or six innings with limited success. Last month Lopez went 1-2 coupled with a huge ERA of 5.93 while Nova was 0-3 and 4.89. Friends, these are the Nos. 2 and 3 starting pitchers on a team on the cusp of .500.

The rest of the rotation has been patchwork. Orisdamer Despaigne, a 32-year-old Cuban journeyman, got a tryout in June, starting three games, all of which turned into losses although his initial effort lasted seven innings on a yield of three runs. After being lit up by the Yankees and Rangers, Renteria was asked whether Despaigne would get another start. "He's here until he's not," said the Sox skipper with a mild smirk, and Despaigne was DFAed two days later.

Taking his spot was a guy named Ross Detwiler, another pitcher pulled off the scrapheap, from the independent Atlantic League where he had appeared in three games earlier this season. Detwiler, 33, was a first-round draft pick (6th overall) in 2007, and he managed to win 10 games for the Nationals in 2012. The lanky lefthander has continued to pitch probably because he loves the game with the oft chance, in this day of a dearth of good pitching, that someone like the Sox would pick him up.

So here's a measure of what's happening with this team. In Detwiler's checkered career, he's been released three times, granted free agency four times, had his contract sold once, and signed as a free agent on seven occasions, the last time being May 9 with the Sox. In eight games at Charlotte, he pitched well, earning a call last Friday to face the Twins.

Consider that Minnesota, leading the Central Division this morning with a 53-30 record, is hitting .270 as a team and averaging close to six runs a game. In addition, their thumpers have hit 157 home runs, on pace for 306 this season, which easily would eclipse the present record of 267 set by the Yankees last year.

You could have excused Detwiler if he had said, "I'd love to pitch for you guys, but can we wait a few days until Detroit comes to town?"

Of course, that would have been foolish. Detwiler arrived prior to game time to meet catcher James McCann, another Sox All-Star along with Jose Abreu, to get acquainted, go over signs, and share knowledge about the powerful foe. To complicate matters, the Twins were sending their ace, Jose Berrios to the mound. In 10 prior appearances against the White Sox, the 25-year-old Berrios was 9-1 with a 2.05 ERA.

I've always wondered how gamblers could be so addicted as to bet on baseball. Friday was a perfect example. There seemed to be absolutely no way the Sox could win this game. Tim Anderson went on the injury list earlier in the week with a sprained ankle, and third baseman Yoan Moncada was still nursing a sore knee, the result of being hit by a Chris Sale slider against Boston on Wednesday. Daniel Palka, he of the .026 batting average, accompanied Detwiler from Charlotte to be the evening's DH. And Jose Rondon, hitting beneath the Mendoza Line, assumed Moncada's place in the infield.

Despite all these mitigating factors, the White Sox surprised everyone, maybe even including themselves, by eking out a 6-4 victory. Detwiler allowed a two-run homer to the powerful Miguel Sano, but that was it. He exited after five innings, and six relievers held on while Eloy Jimenez supplied a two-run shot in the eighth inning to chase Berrios and give the Sox a four-run cushion.

When things like this occur, you have to wonder whether something a bit extraterrestrial is happening.

We'll see Detwiler again. In the meantime, the team announced that super prospect Dylan Cease, the minor league pitcher of the year in 2018, will finally make his debut with the Sox in a makeup game on Wednesday afternoon - there will be the regularly scheduled night game - against the Tigers. What a shrewd move. If not for Cease, who would show up for the game?

But showing up they are. In 38 home dates this season, the Sox are averaging 21,008 after drawing almost 28,000 per game last weekend. That's a 16 percent hike over a like number of home dates a year ago.

The wins Friday and Sunday were the bookends of a 10-3 loss on Saturday, but taking a series from the Twins has to provide a ton of confidence for the White Sox. They could be ripe for a letdown in the four games against the inept Tigers, especially with Giolito not slated to pitch until this weekend against the Cubs. Obviously we'll have to wait and see. Monday and Friday are off days during this holiday week, which means that the fellows should be rested and ready for a 6:15 p.m. date Saturday at The Grate against the Cubs. The place will be rocking.

At the risk of being overzealous, think of how this team will develop in the second half if they can get some starting pitching. Can Dylan Cease step up, stay healthy, and provide much-needed help? Can Lopez and Nova find a groove and be effective? If the answers to these questions are affirmative, the next three months will be very interesting.


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

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