1. Not to be even momentarily outshined in the rotation by Jeff Samardzija, Chris Sale overcame a dreadful history against the Baltimore Orioles (who came in the game hitting .352/.436/.614 off Sale for his career) for his finest outing of the year, striking out 12 O's over 7.2 shutout innings. His now 3.66 ERA is only barely better than average (108 ERA+) which reiterates what we addressed with Samardzija yesterday: even if the putrid White Sox offense is possibly an overwhelming yoke for this team to bear, they should start getting more of their fair share of extremely low-difficulty games handed to them by the top-half of their rotation. In their 3-2 win to open Thursday's doubleheader with Baltimore, the offense was meager (three runs despite a matchup against a near-anonymous Orioles starter), the bullpen was frightening (two-run bomb to Chris Davis in the ninth) but they won because Chris Sale. That's going to happen several more times this season.
2. More importantly--maybe not, but more important to me--is that Sale's newfound ability to completely overwhelm the competition came from a subtle but continued amping up of his slider use. Brooks Baseball had him throwing 21 sliders, which is a small percentage of 120 pitches, but significant when it's a 80-slider that hitters have to account for. When stuff is as good as Sale's, does the approach to getting through multiple innings change? Instead of revealing as little of possible of his arsenal so he can save more tricks for the later innings, does Sale flood the batter with all of his fearsome tools, and give him too much to think about and account for for his later opportunities?
3. Chris Beck was not nearly as impressive while yielding four runs on 10 hits in six innings in the 6-3 nightcap loss, but was a deviation away from the overwhelmed, overpromoted disaster I was anticipating. He made mistakes up in the zone, sat in the low-90's, worked from behind far too often than someone with his stuff can afford to. But...he wasn't...awful? Granted it was a doubleheader nightcap lineup, and maybe Jimmy Paredes looking confused against Beck was very much a Jimmy Paredes issue, but his continued control problems, and backing himself into a corner with only a mediocre righty fastball-change combo to fight his way out with never resulted in the levees breaking inning that seemed inevitable early on. It wasn't "encouraging" per se (three swinging strikes is...how you say...a low total), but his control should be better with first-game jitters gone.
4. Gordon Beckham got thrown out TRYING TO TAG UP AND ADVANCE TO SECOND in the nightcap. I just praised Bonifacio for doing this the previous day but there are very rare and specific circumstances where this is not just declaring yourself to be meat. The White Sox are now second in the AL in outs on the bases (22) despite not being particularly good at reaching base.
5. With two doubles in the opener, and a home run in the nightcap, Adam LaRoche hit one less extra-base hit Thursday than he had all month previously. Combined with his crazy month of getting on base, he has a .241/.371/.393 batting line, which in today's offensive hellscape, is a 118 OPS+!!!!! Three cheers for meeting mild expectations! If a DH slugging under .400 and still being serviceable bums you out about league offense, grief counselors are available.
6. Hopefully Dan Jennings can survive his seemingly unending string of awful experience to be the tool against lefties he looks capable of being. He has good velocity from the left side and a big sweeping slider that you can just envision doubling over Eric Hosmer in a late-September showdown, but 18 appearances in with a 6.75 ERA and 12 walks in 20 innings is not a good way to stay on a roster, let alone work your way into meaningful appearances. Given the way Robin is using Zach Duke as a primary setup man, Jennings should still have some rope as a LOOGY, but maaaan.
7. Melky Cabrera has seven hits during a five-game hitting streak and is STILL slugging only .283. :(((.
8. The White Sox begin a series with the Astros this weekend, their victim in the 2005 World Series. Between Houston's current success and prospect depth relative to Chicago's still burgeoning system, bringing up '05 is kind of like saying "yeah but we kicked your ass in WWII." At the very least, the 'Stros offense is coming back to earth. Their sixth-highest AL run total is running on a merely league-average total offense, and their 24.4% strikeout rate is by far the highest in the league.
9. Hopefully they're feeling exceptionally swing-happy because Carlos Rodon leads the Sox in walks. Total walks. He's thrown 19 in 22 innings. Next is John Danks, who has walked 17 batters in 49 innings. To give you an idea on the difference in stuff, it's way more problematic for Danks to be walking that many than for Rodon to even maintain his current level.
10. Beck was sent back down after Thursday, so that Daniel Webb could stay on. Not sure what secret plan is in place for the Sox to not need a rubber-arm long reliever anymore, but uh, John Danks is still on the staff. Webb at least threw a perfect inning with a strikeout Thursday.