Eloy Returns: But What About The Bullpen?

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White Sox slugger Eloy Jimenez made his 2021 MLB debut tonight as the White Sox traveled to Kansas City to play the Royals. Jimenez, who suffered a torn pectoral tendon in late March, is slated in the designated hitter position and hitting fourth tonight. Sox fans hope and expect that Jimenez will provide a spark to an offense that has been sporadic for most of the season. To make room for Jimenez on the roster, the White Sox sent third baseman Jake Burger down to Charlotte.

Before suffering the injury, Jimenez was expected to be the Sox number two-run producer behind reigning American League Most Valuable Player Jose Abreu. His absence left a gaping hole in the Sox lineup, as they have tried several different players to fill the void. The offensive woes were made exponentially worse when Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal went down with serious injuries.

Offensive Woes Not the Only Issue

There is no doubt that the Sox lack of consistent hitting has been a problem throughout the season. While they occasionally score runs in bunches, a fair amount of their losses can be attributed to the inability to consistently score three or four runs a game. They do boast the second-best run differential in the AL (115), although that includes several games where the club totally blew out the other team. The Sox are a team that needs to find a way to score runs. Perhaps Jimenez will add some thunder to a lineup that struggles to hit the ball out of the park.

Here is an interesting statistic. According to ESPN 1000 in Chicago, since the All-Star break, White Sox starters have the second-lowest earned run average baseball, at 2.34. Only the Brewers starters have done better, as they have a composite ERA of 2.01. With such a low starter ERA, you would think that the Sox have had a nice start to the second half of the season. Yet, they are only 5-5 since the break, including taking two of three from the Astros and losing two of three to the Brewers. This does reflect the fact that the offense has struggled out of the gate. However, the offense is not the only culprit.

While scoring runs has not been easy for the South Siders, there is another element of the team that has been at best mediocre so far in 2021. The bullpen, which many had expected to be a strength, has shown a great deal of regression from 2020. Several returnees have been very disappointing, to say the least. It has gotten to the point where manager Tony La Russa must be wondering just who are these guys? White Sox fans who enjoyed the bullpen success have been very vocal in social media, as they express their displeasure with the 2021 version.

White Sox Bullpen on Display Nationally

The White Sox bullpen dilemma was on full display for a national audience Sunday night. The club were trying to salvage the third and final game of a series against the Brewers in Milwaukee. As usual, Sox starter Lance Lynn gave the Sox six solid innings of five-hit, one-run ball. Lynn, who leads the AL in ERA with a brilliant 1.91, also drove in two of the Sox three runs with a second-inning single. Just another night at the office for Lynn.

The downside of Lynn’s performance was that he threw 98 pitches through six innings. La Russa decided that Lynn had thrown enough pitches, and went to the bullpen. This is where the fun usually begins for the Sox and opponents alike. The only question for La Russa was who would get the first call to the pen. With three innings to cover and just a two-run lead, it would not be easy.

La Russa chose to go with young flamethrower Michael Kopech with the hopes of extending him for two innings. Then, he could call on All-Start closer Liam Hendriks in the ninth to close out the game. Kopech was able to get through the seventh, pitching around a botched fly ball by center fielder Brian Goodwin. With phase one complete, it was on to phase two.

Unfortunately, Kopech walked the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the eighth, forcing La Russa to make a tough decision. La Russa chose to go with Hendriks for the two-inning save. On this night, Hendriks was up to the task, striking out three Brewers and locking down the win for the Sox. Mission accomplished for the South Siders. However, the win also highlighted the dilemma La Russa and the Sox are facing. What about the bullpen?

So, What About That Bullpen?

While the failures of the Sox bullpen have been well-documented, the question is just what to do about it. While the club haw been mentioned as being in the market for a second baseman, it sure seems as though the bullpen is a much bigger area of need. It is doubtful that any fan is comfortable with a two-man bullpen. Hendriks is very durable, but Kopech cannot be expected to carry the load for the rest of the bullpen.

There are just four days left for teams to make upgrades for the stretch run. The White Sox are one of the teams that must be buyers, as their bullpen does not look playoff ready. Unless one or more of the current relievers re-discover their magic, the Sox will be in trouble. So, we certainly expect general manager Rick Hahn to work diligently to shore up the pen. There are many relievers available as the trade deadline approaches. The Sox could really use both a righty and a lefty reliever.

So, as the week goes forward, the question for Rick Hahn and Tony La Russa is: do they dare wait and hope that pitchers such as Aaron Bummer, Codi Heuer, Garrett Crochet, or even Matt Foster to wake up and return to 2020 form? Or, does Hahn feel the urgency to make a deal for some much-needed help in the beleaguered bullpen? Is Hahn willing to do whatever it takes to pull the White Sox closer to the World Series? If so, whom will the Sox target, and who are they willing to give up to make it happen? Will the Sox target a righty, lefty, or both?

The ball is now in Hahn’s court. La Russa will use whatever and whoever he has at his disposal. However, it is difficult to imagine a Sox team going deep into October without a serious improvement in the bullpen. sadly, it is equally difficult to envision any of the current relievers making a sudden turnaround. At any rate, the Sox surely cannot count on that happening. No, Rick Hahn must step up to the plate and deliver in the clutch for his team. While the Sox have put together a solid season, it would be a shame if it were to end early because the GM failed at the most crucial time. Rick Hahn, the clock is ticking.

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Mike Fisk is a lifelong baseball fan. For him, there is nothing like being at a baseball game, with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Writing about baseball is a bonus!