After discussing the flexibility and depth of the bullpen in last week’s post, I will shift my focus and take a look at the White Sox starting rotation. Just as last year, the White Sox rotation will go a long way in determining the success of this year’s club. One may look at the Sox staff, one through five, and believe the talent is there to compete for a Central Division crown. However, that was the thinking last year, but it was the starting pitching that put the Sox in an early season hole. Again, the talent is there, but consistency starting Opening Day will be paramount. This team is put together to win now. Therefore, a lot is expected from these five arms. They need to point the Sox in the right direction early on.
Mark Buehrle will get the ball this Friday against Cleveland to start the season. Though he may not be the most talented hurler in the White Sox rotation, he has earned the right to be given the ball on Opening Day for a club record ninth straight year. Possessing otherworldly poise, you know what Buehrle is going to give you. He’s as steady as they come, posting 10 wins and logging 200 innings pitched in each of the last 10 years. Barring injury, this should be the eleventh consecutive season Buehrle posts those types of numbers. He is always going to give up his fare share of hits and home runs, but his ability to limit the damage in these situations will eventually determine his success as well as his retirement plans upon season’s end.
In somewhat of a surprise, at least to me, Edwin Jackson starts out the year as the team’s number two starter. Jackson is the most intriguing guy on this staff. The reason being his ability to consistently throw strikes after the White Sox acquired him at last year’s trade deadline. Perhaps Don Cooper cast the same magic spell he did on Matt Thornton back in 2006 helping Thornton becoming a dominant force at the back end of the bullpen. Who knows? If Jackson continues to throw strikes he can be a dominant as anyone. That may be a huge “if,” but more often than not, I’ll take a starter that can work in the upper 90s with his fastball and have a devastating slider that sits in the upper 80s. Hopefully this is the year E-Jack can put it all together after showing so much promise as a can’t-miss prospect, once out-pitching Randy Johnson in his major league debut at the tender age of 20.
It is my belief that John Danks is the ace of this staff. At only the age of 25, Danks has proved to be one of top left-handed starters in the American League. It has been a godsend for Danks to have the mentorship of Mark Buehrle these past few years. You can see some of Buehrle’s mannerisms when Danks is on the bump. The big difference you ask? Danks has top notch stuff and in a sense, is a power pitcher. His ability to locate an above average fastball and keep hitter off balance with a great changeup is the key to his success. His development of a cutter with the help of Buehrle gives him three “plus” pitches with which he can attack hitters. Danks gets in trouble when he is unable to keep his changeup down in the zone. This is one of the consistency factors for the rotation. From start to start, Danks must keep his changeup down in the zone. If he is able to do so, he can be an elite pitcher in this league.
Gavin Floyd may be the most frustrating of the Sox starters to watch. After posting a career high 17 wins in 2008 Floyd has won just 21 games in the past two years combined. Slow starts to the season paired with inconsistency are the primary reasons. It took until June 24th last year for Gavin to lower his earned run average below 5.00. That stat is mind boggling for someone of his talent. For whatever reason it seems that Floyd struggles with the transition from spring training to the regular season. I’m not looking for him to be as dominant as he was last July when he only gave up only three earned runs over a five start span. At the same time, he must be better than the guy that showed up last April and surrendered 19 earned runs in just over 26 innings pitched. I’ll settle for something in between as long as he doesn’t have as many ups and downs as the recent stock market.
Back in mid-January the White Sox claimed Philip Humber off waivers. As it turns out, this Tommy John surgery survivor will start the season as the team’s fifth starter. However, the amount of work he will get may vary. Because of scheduled off days the Sox do not need a fifth starter until April 10 and then not again until April 20. His value will come as much as a long reliever as it will as a starter. Once a prized first round draft pick of the New York Mets, Humber may just be holding a place in the rotation until Jake Peavy is ready to pitch. If Peavy is able to come back strong and continues to make the strides he did this spring it will bring a whole new dynamic to this already promising rotation.
I may be old school in my thinking, but it is still my belief that pitching wins championships. Do the White Sox have a championship caliber rotation? Only time will tell. The talent in this core group of arms cannot be argued. With that said, it will be the consistency of these starters from April through September that will determine whether or not the White Sox play in October.