The 2021 White Sox entered the season with much well-deserved hype. They added some key pieces to a team that went 35-25 in 2020, and rightfully expect more growth from their younger players. Many people, including many outside Chicago, expect the White Sox to be serious contenders.
One of those areas the Sox solidified was the bullpen. While they got some surprisingly strong performances in 2020, they have added three key pieces that would appear to have made their bullpen one of, if not the very best in MLB. During the offseason, they signed the best closer on the market in Liam Hendriks. In addition, Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet have started the season in the bullpen. When added to returning relievers Aaron Bummer, Codi Heuer, Evan Marshall, and Matt Foster, the 2021 White Sox have every reason to believe that they have an elite bullpen.
2021 White Sox: What"s Going On With The Bullpen?
However, over the first week and a half of the season, the bullpen has been anything but good. Thought by many to be the strength of the team, they have struggled to hold leads, and fans have every right to be frustrated. The 2021 White Sox finished Sunday"s action with a record of 4-5. It would not be a stretch to suggest that they could easily be 7-2, perhaps even 8-1, if their bullpen had performed as expected.
Let"s take a look at simple facts: In four of Sox five losses, they have lead into the sixth inning. In two of those, they lead after seven innings, and in another, they lead after eight innings. Even if they just split these four games, the record would look a lot better at 6-3. Here is a quick recap of the five losses the 2021 White Sox have suffered:
The Ugly Details
Game One in Anaheim – White Sox lead 3-2 after seven innings. In the bottom of the eighth, Aaron Bummer comes in to set up Hendriks for the save, however, (with a big error), Bummer is unable to get through the inning without allowing the tying and lead runs to score. Sox lose 4-3.
Game Three in Anaheim – Again, the Sox carry a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning. Evan Marshall, Mr. Reliable in 2019 and 2020, entered the scene and had nothing. Three hits and three runs later, the Angels had a 5-3 lead. The Sox did not score in the ninth and another tough loss goes into the books.
Game Six in Seattle – The Sox carry a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. Starter Dallas Keuchel allows the first two hitters to reach base. Matt Foster relieves him and promptly five hits and five runs before he is mercifully pulled by Tony Larussa. The damage was done, and the White Sox lost 8-4.
Game Nine at home vs. Kansas City. This may be the best example of the bullpen"s struggles. The White Sox ride Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech to a 1-1 tie after seven innings. Aaron Bummer enters in the eighth and promptly walks the number nine hitter on four pitches to lead off the inning. After a stolen base, a two-out single drives in the go-ahead run. Leadoff walks are killers.
The Sox took the lead in the bottom of the eighth on Adam Eaton"s two-run pinch home run. Hendriks comes in for the save and gives up a home run to the first hitter he sees, Carlos Santana. In the top of the tenth, with the go-ahead run in third and one out, Andrew Benintendi bunts back to Garrett Crochet. On his throw home. Crochet acted like a quarterback spiking a football into the ground, and the winning run scored. This was truly a team bullpen effort.
Finally, in the only game where the Sox did not have a late lead, they did scratch and claw to tie the Angels in the top of the ninth inning. The tie did not survive the inning however, as Jose Ruiz and Foster allowed three hits and three runs, capped off by a walk-off home run by Justin Upton.
2021 White Sox Bullpen: By The Numbers
While statistics must be viewed through a wider lens and can be misleading, sometimes they do tell a story. As of Sunday night, Sox starters are 4-0, with a collective ERA just over three. The bullpen, on the other hand, is 0-5, with an ERA just under six. Kopech and Crochet each have ERA"s of 0.00. However, Hendriks checks in at 8.10, Marshall at 9.82, and Foster at 27.00. Ruiz, Heuer, and Bummer have given up clutch runs, even though their ERAs look good. What was touted as the best bullpen in baseball has been a major disappointment for Sox fans.
The Good News: It"s Early
Yes, it is early, and there is good reason to believe that the Sox bullpen can get it together. No reason to panic just yet, fans. Many teams and players have ups and downs over the course of a 162 game season. These guys have pitched too well in the past to believe that they will not improve. At this point, Sox fans have to hope that the performance of the bullpen has just been one of those things.
On The Other Hand
The trend needs to reverse itself at some point. If the 2021 White Sox are to be the contenders that many expect them to be, the bullpen will need to step up and do its job. This is something that needs to happen soon, or the fans will be out on the ledge. If they fail to pick up the pace, it could be a very long season on the South Side.
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images