A Pair Of Aces?

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 10: Carlos Rodon #55 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Cleveland Indians during the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on August 10, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

In my last post, I enjoyed the great work we saw out of Kopech in his first two outings (which has since been added to with an abbreviated but effective outing and his first disaster… which was always gonna happen eventually). It was nice to have some excitement up at the big league level again, as few things can really get ya pumped about your squad more than watching a true ace every five days.

Not to say Kopech has achieved that lofty designation just yet, but not many arms even have that potential. This kid does, so it will be a lot of fun to watch what may come.

However if there is anything more exciting than one top of the rotation arm, it’s two of ‘em. And while we’re a ways away from really believing that’s what the Sox have, again – the potential is there if you’ve been paying close attention.

Which is huge, because we as Sox fans really need something exciting to key in on down the stretch. Taking a look at the rest of the Sox big league pieces, not a single player’s 2018 makes you confident they’re a key piece to the next contender. There have been plenty of flashes and I’m far from giving up on most of these guys, but not a one has entrenched himself for the future through his play this season.

I’m gonna skip that disheartening roster-long roll call of why they’ve all disappointed, and instead get back to the best piece of optimism this season has generated at the big league level. That’s Carlos Rodon – our second shot at a legit ace.

His season is too short and his inconsistency and injury history too long to fully bank on his longterm ace status just yet. But given that we knew all that at the season’s outset, what Rodon has done is as much as we could have hoped for. Which dovetails well with Kopech’s righting the ship in AAA and then coming up to deliver three solid appearances in his first four outings.

Because while all the hype this year has centered on Kopech’s brilliant, if inconsistent, work in AAA, Rodon may be even closer to establishing his #1 bonafides. He’s flashed decent runs of sustained high-level success in the past, so what we’re seeing now might be it all coming together.

Despite playing in front of an iffy defense and a bullpen made up of hopes and dreams, Rodon has yet to have a bad stretch of season. In fact, in his 15 starts this year, only once has he failed to keep the Sox in the ballgame.

He’s thrown 100 innings so far, an at impressive 6 ⅔ per start! So Rodon is checking the ace box of being a true workhorse. And while his 75 Ks are a drastic reduction from what we’ve seen in the past (he had been a K/IP guy his first three years), Rodon is sporting a nasty-looking 1.02 WHIP. His 38 walks aren’t exactly Maddux-like, but his minuscule 64 hits allowed kinda are.

This is the Rodon we’ve been waiting for. The guy who teased us his rookie year by finishing with a 9-start run featuring an ERA around 2.30. Who turned around a disappointing sophomore campaign with a 3.11 ERA in his final 11 starts. And then last season was on a 7-game stretch of 3.00 ERA before his already late-starting season was prematurely shut down.

You can say I’m conveniently selecting his hottest windows, or that you can’t ignore how troubled he was outside those great runs. But I say his many strong stretches show that Rodon definitely has what it takes to be a sustained elite-level SP. And viewed through that lens, what he’s doing now gives me confidence that 2019 might finally give us the 200+ inning, low 3 ERA, sub 1.15 WHIP type we’ve been waiting on since he was the #3 overall pick in 2014.

I just need to see Rodon finish the season fully healthy, hopefully just about as productive (though a little slippage won’t concern me), and then come out in Spring Training and do what’s necessary to be at the top of his game from Opening Day.

If he does that, and if Kopech roughly continues the trajectory he’s on (and that will include occasional rough patches like his last outing), 2019 might just give us the reliable starting pitching foundation on which to build something respectable in 2020.

So it’ll be fun to dial into the Sox from here on out, to see if Kopech’s and Rodon’s remaining starts (as well as those of the inconsistent but still promising Rey Lopez and Giolito) can provide me with some confidence in a few Sox big league level pieces that has otherwise eluded me this season.

Brian Pollina is a second generation White Sox fan proudly raising a third generation on the North Side.  When not busy trying to get a Sox Mt. Rushmore of Big Frank, Harold, Uribe, and Don Cooper commissioned, he works in the radio industry.