The Chicago White Sox entered the week with the top record in the American League, and sole possession of the American League Central with a one game lead over the rival Minnesota Twins, but many asserted that the White Sox have built that lead by simply beating up on bad teams.
Which was true for the most part. They went 9-1 against both the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals respectively, took three of four games from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but failed to this point to win a series against either the Minnesota Twins or the Cleveland Indians in 2020. In fact, their only series win against a winning team came last month when they took two-of-three against the Chicago Cubs in a weekend bout at Wrigley Field.
So, the White Sox came into a huge four-game series with Minnesota with something to prove, both to themselves, and the rest of the league.
Sox Strike First
In the series opener the White Sox turned to Dylan Cease, who’s been good when you look at the standard numbers this season. He entered the game with a 4-2 record, and a 3.20 ERA.
However, Cease’s peripherals have painted a much less confident picture, creating a question as to who will assume the third spot in the White Sox playoff rotation in a couple of weeks.
Regardless, Cease battled his way through 4.2 innings of one-run ball against the vaunted Twins on Monday night, and the offense and bullpen came through in the end. With the game tied at one-a-piece in the bottom of the eighth inning, Adam Engel deked out the Twins infield by showing bunt, and then pulling back and slapping a single through the hole to score Luis Robert.
Tim Anderson would put the icing on the cake with an RBI single off the left field wall to extend the Sox lead to 3-1, and Alex Colome — who entered with two outs in the eighth — would nail it down in the ninth inning for his second win of the season.
With the White Sox looking to determine who gets the ball after Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in the Postseason rotation, Dane Dunning made quite the impression on Tuesday night.
Dunning, 25, entered the game with a 1-0 record and a 2.70 ERA and in just his fifth MLB start, the White Sox asked him to come up big in a playoff atmosphere game against the Minnesota Twins.
Dunning delivered on their request, tossing seven innings while allowing just one earned (two total) run on three hits, seven strikeouts, and a pair of walks. All while having no four-seam fastball and less than normal control according to catcher James McCann after the game.
“It boils down to his composure. That’s a playoff-type atmosphere. He really didn’t have his four-seam tonight, but found a way to get through it with just his two-seam. I couldn’t be more proud of how he came through.”
Dunning battled his way to his second victory, in what was easily his best performance of the season to date. A performance so good, that the White Sox will have an even tougher decision in a couple of weeks when it comes time to decide who will follow their big one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
Dunning’s 28 strikeouts in his first five career starts is the second most during that span since Jason Bere struck out 31 in 1993.
Nomar Mazara’s career splits against right-handed pitching were one of the reasons the White Sox acquired the former Texas Rangers’ outfielder this winter, but on Tuesday night Rick Renteria sat Mazara in favor of Adam Engel, even with the Twins throwing right-hander Randy Dobnak.
When asked about the decision prior to the game, Renteria had this to say;
“We wanted to give Maz a chance to step back [and] we want to keep Engy as sharp as he can be. We’ve given [Mazara] lots of ABs. We still hope he can settle in. Far as today goes, we thought [Adam] would be a decent matchup vs. Dobnak”
Translation: Mazara has looked bad against pitchers of both handedness this season, and Adam Engel has been much better in his limited role, and delivered a big-time go-ahead hit on Monday night. Probably.
Look, everyone wanted the buy-low flip of Steele Walker for Nomar Mazara to pan out and solve the right field issue in this lineup, but it’s failed miserably, and it’s time to pull the plug and just insert Engel into the everyday lineup from here on out.
Mazara is slashing .223/.298/.272/.570 with 0 home runs and 10 RBI over the course of 114 plate appearances. He’s striking out at a 32.5 percent clip and he’s generated -4.4 offensive fWAR.
Engel on the other hand, has slashed his way to a respectable .306/.342/.444/.786 hitting line that includes a pair of home runs, nine RBI, and nine runs scored. Not to mention, he’s striking out at a far lower rate than Mazara (18.4 percent in 2020) in less plate appearances. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he’s just a year removed from being a Gold Glove Award candidate in 2019.
Adam Engel isn’t going to wow anyone like the rest of the guys in the lineup, but he’s earned the right to start over Mazara going forward.
Featured Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast | Credit: AP