Believe it or not, baseball has been back for a month now. The White Sox are fresh off a series sweep against the Rangers and finally above .500. Time for a rundown on the three best and the three worst surprises so far of the 2021 White Sox season.
Let’s start off positive with the three best surprises.
2021 White Sox Best Surprise #1: Yermín Mercedes
Yermin Mercedes was drafted as an international prospect by the Washington Nationals way back in 2011. With Washington, Mercedes couldn’t even get out of the Dominican Summer League (DSL), spending all of his time there until 2013. Mercedes spent the 2014 season in independent baseball and signed with the Baltimore Orioles after the season. Still only playing at the minor or independent league level.
Because his career had already run long, Mercedes was exposed to the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft after the 2017 season and the White Sox picked him up. On August 1, 2020, Mercedes got the call-up but his first appearance was to pinch-hit and he grounded out.
On April 3, 2021, Mercedes became the first player in White Sox history and only the second player in the modern era to have five hits during his first career start.
Since then, Mercedes has turned into a fan favorite. There is even a burger named after him at Freddie’s and Goose Island has a “Rule 5 Draft” available in their taproom to honor the 28-year-old star. With a batting average of .414, eight runs and 15 RBIs, I don’t see Yermania ending anytime soon.
2021 White Sox Best Surprise #2: Michael Kopech
I’ll be honest, this one doesn’t surprise me all that much. I knew what Michael Kopech was capable of prior to the injury and the year off. Lucas Giolito is the ace, but Kopech is my future ace. But not a lot of people thought he would come back and dominate every outing. In his April 25 start against the Rangers, Kopech threw 87 pitches in five innings, striking 10 batters out. In the first two innings, all six outs were strikeouts. His confidence and command are undeniable as he continues to prove he deserves a spot in the starting rotation, even if that happens in 2022.
Kopech is going to be exciting to watch and will hopefully make the occasional limited pitches or innings starts throughout the 2021 White Sox season. Starting out in the bullpen was the right call, but once he’s off the leash, he’ll be a lights out starter.
2021 White Sox Best Surprise #3: Carlos Rodón
Carlos Rodón is another feel good story of the 2021 White Sox season. I covered his journey to the no-hitter earlier this month. From being selected as the third draft pick in the first round, to multiple surgeries and a non-tender from the White Sox in 2020, Rodón made it back to the White Sox in January of 2021 for a one year contract. It seemed like a majority of White Sox fans were frustrated with the move because it was not the big name starting pitcher on their list for offseason acquisitions.
Stomach issues plagued Rodón, causing him to be skipped for a game. Then he turned around and threw a no-hitter and almost a perfect game. The only thing standing in his way was a foot, but a no-hitter is nothing to scoff at. His next outing, while not perfect, was still a solid start. Here’s to hoping he can maintain that 0.47 ERA.
Now for the not so great surprises from the 2021 White Sox season thus far.
2021 White Sox Worst Surprise #1: Hamstrings, Pecs, and All the Other Injuries
Perhaps Spring Training was trying to suggest that the White Sox would be off to a rough start. News broke about Adam Engel suffering a hamstring injury and would be out until at least May. Eloy Jiménez would go after a ball he shouldn’t have and would have to have surgery for a torn pectoral, putting his return closer to August. Yasmani Grandal seemed to have knee soreness that has continued to plague him throughout April. Then the kidney stones for Dr. Pepper loving closer Liam Hendriks.
Soon enough, Tim Anderson and Billy Hamilton would spend time on the IL for hamstring injuries. Lance Lynn would join the IL with a strained right trapezius. Better to have these injuries early on and not in September, but still frustrating as the team works towards a playoff push. Then to add insult to injury, Lucas Giolito sliced his finger on a glass bottle that he assumed was a twist off top. Thankfully, this is only a minor injury and he just needed to be skipped for a game. On the upside, Kopech was able to dominate on Giolito’s sudden day off. Someone please start opening bottles for players.
2021 White Sox Worst Surprise #2: Lucas Giolito’s ERA
When I think of Giolito, a few things come to mind: White Sox ace, lover of cats, casually threw a no hitter in 2020 in front of an empty ballpark. What I don’t think of? A 5.79 ERA and a two inning game on a chilly morning in Boston.
Perhaps what he said is true and he’s just not a morning person. Giolito walked two, surrendered two home runs and did not have a strikeout for just the third time in his career. Giolito had the shortest outing of his career, allowing seven earned runs on eight hits in a one-plus inning.
“I lost us a game in the first inning, so it’s not a good feeling,” Giolito said. “The pitcher I am, what I’m capable of doing, to go out and do that is not doing my job. I have to make a couple adjustments and get back on the track I’d like to be on.”
This is probably just a tough start for the talented pitcher and I’m not concerned. Every pitcher has a day like that, this one just took me by surprise, and not in the good way.
2021 White Sox Worst Surprise #3: The Alleged “Pen Is Mightier” Bullpen
Where do I begin with this one?
The bullpen is just flat out underperforming. Only two of the nine losses this season have been the fault of the starting pitchers. Tony La Russa however does not seem to be concerned at the SOS signals anyone else seems to be waving. On paper, this bullpen should be incredible, perhaps the best or one of the best in the American League.
Liam Hendriks is rarely being used and giving up runs that the White Sox have had to walk-off in the ninth. The White Sox put all the eggs in one basket to acquire Hendriks and if he’s not keeping the bench warm, he’s bouncing from a starting ERA of 13.50, eventually 8.10 and currently 4.82.
Aaron Bummer has continued to walk nearly every batter. Matt Foster has faced an overall rough start to the 2021 season. Garrett Crochet’s speed has dropped from the 101 mph pitches he was throwing last season. Mercedes even made his pitching debut after running through available bullpen arms on April 19.
It seems like the two most trustworthy members of the bullpen are Michael Kopech and Codi Heur. With the potential starts Kopech might have this season, one of the stars won’t be available as often. It’s time for La Russa and Katz to figure out where the smoke is coming from and put out the fire in the “best” bullpen in the American League.
The White Sox seem to be back on track and on a winning streak, but I’ll be back for an All-Star Break check-in. Let’s hope it’s only good surprises for that!
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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images