The rebuilding White Sox came home Thursday to meet the well built Boston Red Sox, riding high from a 5-2 road trip against the Tigers and Yankees and 11 wins in their last 15 games.
This is the same team that for the first four months of the season was on pace for 100 losses and looking bad doing it. In the last month, however, enough corners have been turned at important places to elevate the mood considerably around Guaranteed Rate Field — a 9-4 loss to the 93-42 Red Sox notwithstanding.
One of those places is where Lucas Giolito, who threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run, two-hit ball in the Sox’ 9-5 loss before 18,015 fans, exists. Before 30-year-old Jeanmar Gomez surrendered Giolito’s 4-0 lead in quick fashion in the seventh and before Thyago Vieira gave up five runs in the ninth, Giolito walked off to a standing ovation after handcuffing baseball’s best hitting team. It was the latest indication the Sox rebuild is firming up in good places, boosted by several key developments:
*Carlos Rodon’s sustained excellence: The 25-year-old left-hander with the elite slider, about a year removed from shoulder surgery, is pitching like one of the best starters in baseball and he’s done it over nine straight starts without a bad one. He’s 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA since June 30. The 2019 Opening Day starter.
*Tim Anderson’s improved defense. The shortstop who once looked shaky has been reliable as well as spectacular at times. He has played 18 consecutive errorless games and had only four errors in his last 69. With 17 homers and 25 stolen bases, Anderson’s offensive pop has not been in question. He’s one of five major leaguers with 15 and 25, including Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez, Trea Turner and Starling Marte.
*Giolito’s rebound: After a terrible first half in which he led the American League in walks, the 24-year-old right-hander has found his command and is now pitching like a rotation-piece keeper. He owns a 2.84 ERA over his last four starts (with six walks), is 5-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 57 strikeouts over his last 10 starts and may have had his best start of the season against the Red Sox. Of his career-high 113 pitches (74 strikes), 13 drew swings and and misses (seven on changeups).
*Michael Kopech’s arrival: The organization’s top pitching prospect has only thrown eight innings over two starts, but they’ve been impressive enough (one run) to leave some lining him up behind Rodon in the 2019 rotation. It’s too soon for that, but the 22-year-old’s presence alone giving clarity to the future has been a boost.
With Kopech in the rotation, the Sox have a 2.01 ERA over their last seven games.
“I think that Michael coming up kind of got the guys excited a little bit,” Giolito said. “We’re just out there having fun, competing against each other. Who can go deeper into the game? Who can strike out more guys? It’s kind of a rivalry between us. It’s fun, it’s playful.”
The Sox pounced on right-hander Rick Porcello with three runs in the first on Avisail Garcia’s home run to center, his 15th, and Matt Davidson’s RBI single in the first. Garcia’s sacrifice fly in the second made it 4-0 and it looked like Giolito might win his fourth consecutive start.
But after Giolito left, the Red Sox pushed across four runs in the seventh to tie it, one charged to Giolito and three to Gomez, who gave up Mookie Betts’ 29th homer and Ian Kinsler’s two-run single. J.D. Martinez belted his 39th homer in the ninth to make it 9-5, sending many fans for their cars.
At least they — and the Sox — had Giolito’s performance. He took a no-hitter into the fifth against the best team in baseball, and heads into September with his confidence soaring.
“When I’m feeling good and when my stuff is working I can pitch well against any team in this league,” Giolito said.