That's more like it.
A day after breaking their season opening four-game skid, the White Sox welcomed Chris Sale back with open arms and he pitched them to a 6-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, the Sox's second in a row against the presumptive AL Central bottom feeders.
- Chris Sale, Chris Sale, Chris Sale. What else is there to say? The ace looked in midseason form in his first start back from a broken foot. A line of 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K is about par for the course, and health permitting I see no reason why he won't be turning in Cy Young worthy performances on a regular basis.
Sale's velocity was particularly impressive. His fastball averaged 96.3 mph throughout the start, topping out at 98.8(!) on the last pitch of his start, according to Brooks Baseball. His fastball averaged 94.8 mph a year ago, so he was clearly cranking it up.
He also threw just 10 sliders in his 98 pitches of work, which is a far cry from a year ago when he was throwing the slider about 18 percent of the time. I'm not sure if it was a matter of a particular game plan against a bad Minnesota Twins lineup, or Sale just knowing his fastball was on point, but there were absolutely no signs of diminished returns from the ace. A welcome sight, indeed.
- While Sale's performance was obviously the highlight of the day, the White Sox were lucky at times that their opponent was the hapless Twins and not some competent club. In the second inning, they were gifted two extra outs when Eduardo Nunez dropped a routine fly ball in left that let Micah Johnson scatter all the way around to third base, and later in the inning Eduardo Escobar dropped a pop-up at third base. The White Sox managed all of zero runs off of those miscues.
Some bad luck factored into this, of course. Johnson was erased when Escobar nabbed a hard ground ball right by the bag, leaving him in no-man's land and he was eventually thrown out at the plate. Still, failing to capitalize on these opportunities won't fly against better competition, regardless of who is dealing on the mound.
Likewise, the White Sox's aggression on the base paths get the best of them in what likely cost them another run. After watching Melky Cabrera go first-to-third on a single to right field, Jose Abreu thought he'd give it a shot two batters later on a single to left, only to be gunned down easily. Aggression on the base paths is not always a bad thing, but the key is to do it selectively. The White Sox have five TOOTBLANs on the season, per TOOTBLAN Tracker, which is two more than any other team.
- There were offensive positives, of course. Adam LaRoche continues to prove he can rake against righties, hitting his second home run in as many days. Cabrera, Abreu, Avisail Garcia and Alexei Ramirez all had two hits on the day, and Gordon Beckham even got into the act with a two-run homer in the eighth that stole a save opportunity from the mighty David Robertson (#TheReturn).
- Sale's dominance, coming after Jeff Samardzija seemed to get on track in Saturday's victory, was a welcome finish to what was shaping up to be a miserable week. The White Sox continue their AL Central-heavy early schedule this week with two against the Indians and three against Detroit. A load of fun pitching matchups are on the way, too, with Jose Quintana scheduled to get the ball against Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco (who struck out 10 in 6.1 IP in his season debut) on Tuesday, and a weekend back-to-back of Samardzija vs. David Price and Sale vs. Justin Verlander on tap this weekend, if projected schedules hold.
It's hard to get worked up over mid-April matchups, but holding their own against the AL Central is one of the most important factors in the White Sox contending in 2015. 25 of the first 28 games of the year are against the division, so hopefully they're able to shake that four-game slide altogether and get on a nice role.
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